Y’all… Where do I even start?
I wanted to write about retiring Mario Chalmers’ jersey (happy birthday to me!), or about Thomas Robinson being traded to Houston (100 miles from my house!), or about Marcus Morris joining Markieff in Phoenix (!!!) but I got busy. So I thought I’d write about Bill Self’s 500th win, but Elijah Johnson blacked out and scored 39 points in a 108-96 overtime win over Iowa State.
So let me open with this:
“This is my team until I leave.”
Elijah’s interview with Holly Rowe really struck me. Here we’ve got this underachieving senior who’s finally shooting the way he should, and perhaps the most notable takeaway from it all isn’t his play. Guys, I think we just watched Elijah grow up.
C.J. Moore (whose WordPress theme makes me really jealous) wrote this nice piece about how honest and self-aware Johnson is. It reminded me of a time in 2010 when a bunch of Kansan staffers were hanging out at The Wheel and someone asked our men’s basketball writer which player was the best interview. I remember him describing Elijah as cerebral. He’s always been kind of a thinker, and he lets you in on his thought process. Tully Corcoran, formerly of the Topeka Capital-Journal, says Johnson either can’t fake it, or he has no interest in doing so.
But knowing this about Elijah just made it more infuriating to watch him screw around as Kansas lost three straight games — and won many more with little contribution from Johnson. You knew it was killing him, so what the hell was the problem?
I’m not sure we ever pinpointed the problem. The solution is apparently a stern talking-to from Bill Self, the world’s greatest motivator and the most gracefully candid coach in basketball.
All of this sounds awfully familiar. Remember Bad Tyshawn? For much of the season, Elijah has been Bad Elijah, showing a stunning lack of leadership in his senior season and shooting 37.9 percent. Monday night he hit 13 of 22 shots — 6 of 10 threes and all seven free throws.
About a year ago, fans were in a similar situation with Tyshawn “Turnover” Taylor, never knowing if we’d be getting Good Tyshawn or Bad Tyshawn in a given day. By the end of the season, I couldn’t have been prouder if Tyshawn were my own brother. But it took a while for him to step up, and while we waited Twitter exploded with sentiments like “OMG TYSHAWN TAYLOR IS NOT GOOD AT BASKETBALL” and “Tyshawn’d again” and “WHY IS HE STILL IN THE GAME BILL SELF ARE YOU CRAZY.”
Bill Self is probably crazy, but he’s always right. He told us Elijah was our guy and I was skeptical. After a week of losing, I shook my angry fist at the sky and had a lot of blasphemous thoughts about Self because I was sure Elijah was not our guy.
I’m a fool. We are all fools. Bill is the boss for a reason. Kansas basketball will test your faith, but that’s what makes winning feel so good.
Self stuck by Tyshawn when we all thought he was a liability, and he stuck by Elijah when we were ready to give up on him. Always trust your Self.
By the way, I appreciate that Elijah apologized for his “unsportsmanlike” dunk on Iowa State. It shows maturity. But I am never sorry about any Kansas dunk and I never will be. Don’t apologize for being awesome. So we’re watching this again.
After the loss, an angry Iowa State fan went after Bill Self. Get the whole weird story on Deadspin.
Further reading: I liked Mike Lavieri’s notes on the game. Kansas is 2-0 in games played before a snow day. From ESPN, Trust in Elijah Johnson pays off. From Tom Keegan at The Lawrence Journal-World, Elijah Johnson responds to man-up talk. From this morning, current Capital-Journal beat writer Austin Meek did a great job with this recap. And Taylor Erickson has a nice fan perspective on Elijah Freaking Johnson.