Elijah Johnson approaches NBA Draft with, yes, confidence
JUN 12, 2013 2:22p ET
He passes. Again.
"I don't think about Michigan at all," the former Kansas guard tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com.
Not at all?
"I'm trying to think about what's in front of me right now."
For sanity's sake, Elijah doesn't dwell on his ghosts. He can't shake them, either. They dance and whisper and cackle, cold breaths clouding every silver lining.
His Jayhawks farewell was a 24-minute symphony of dumb: Thirteen points, no assists, five turnovers, and a below-the-belt brain cramp of a shot to the Wolverines' Mitch McGary. Given the keys for the final possession against Michigan, down 2 in overtime at the NCAA Tournament's South Regional semifinal, he drove into the right side of the paint, had a step on his man, stole a clear glance at the rim, and … kicked it out.
Some pages, you can't turn fast enough.
"Yeah. It'll be all right," Johnson says. "It's only natural. But I feel like, after a while, there's nothing that you can really do about it.
"I feel like it's immature to just focus on that moment if there's nothing you can do about it. You've got to do something to make sure you never do it again, or move on. You just can't dwell on it for the rest of your life."
So he doesn't. Elijah Johnson has been accused of a lot of things in recent years, but having a long memory isn't among them. That train left the station a while ago, and the Nevada native has been on a whirlwind tour of NBA clubs — Portland, Washington, Sacramento, down; the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Mavericks yet to go — in advance of the June 27 draft.
"I haven't heard anything bad," says Johnson, who averaged 9.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 turnovers as a senior. "Just a lot of people saying that I looked different than I looked at Kansas."
"I guess they think I looked a little bit more athletic. I looked like I was just playing instead of trying to run the offense, and just having fun and playing free."
He's smiling more, looking over his shoulder less, reacting as opposed to thinking. In a perfect world, a coach and his point guard are on the same page; for most of this past winter, it seemed as if Bill Self was reading from Hemingway and Johnson was reading from Proust. Things kept getting lost in translation.
The shoe never fit quite right, and the half-court offense, more often than not, walked with a limp. The Jayhawks could still transition like the Globetrotters, if asked, but Elijah had lost his mojo.
So this spring has been a journey, in the figurative as much as the literal sense. Johnson has been trying to find himself again. When pressed as to what part of his game he has devoted the most hours to since April, Elijah says this:
"Really, just working on my confidence. That's the biggest thing. And when I say, 'Working on it,' I don't really mean, 'Working on it.' It's just me being me … I'm playing ball. I'm just playing. I'm just playing ball."
You ask where it was lost, that confidence. The 1-for-11 day at Texas on January 19? The 3-for-14 at home against Oklahoma State on February 2? The 3-for-12 at Texas Christian on February 6? Did it fly off the rails and never come back?
"Nah," Johnson allows. "But I definitely was a little confused."
"I'd rather not even talk about it. That's in the past."
And the ghosts cackle again.
Elijah is frank on the subject, as he is with most things: The Nevada native was a square peg in Self's round hole, cut from a different jib than the prototypical collegiate point man. He doesn't exactly sell himself as one at the next level, either. Johnson sees a future as a combo backcourt type, a 'tweener, instant offense, instant defense, a 6-foot-4 ballhawk with zero fear.
"The (Morris) twins told me a lot that, I've (got) more of an NBA game than a college game," says Johnson, who has been based in Houston for much of the past few months. " Tyshawn (Taylor), T- Rob (Thomas Robinson), a lot of them used to say to me that it's different, that I'll fit more."
Changing the scenery was the first step. Changing the mindset was the next. Former NBA guard John Lucas is in Elijah's ear again, coaching him up, preaching the gospel truth.
"He just told me that I need to do what I did to get me to where I was at," Johnson says. "And he just told me to play. That's where the word 'confidence' comes around."
The mantra: It's not your hands, son. It's not your feet. It's all between your ears.
"I mean, Kansas was Kansas," Johnson says. "Like I said, that situation is behind me. Right now, I'm just focusing on what's going on (next). I can't really change how it ended."
You'll never forget. But you have to forgive. Elijah is getting there. He hopes Jayhawk fans will, too. Eventually.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.
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