One-on-One With Elijah Johnson

Nov. 23, 2010


Talk to Kansas sophomore Elijah Johnson and he will be the first to tell you about the special bond that exists between he and his teammates. The guard, who averaged 2.4 points in 6.6 minutes per game last season, beams when talking about his fellow Jayhawks, flashing a grin that could bring a smile to any face.

“I just love being around my teammates,” Johnson said. “I look forward to the first time I see them (during the day). We have a special bond. No matter what mood you’re in, they are going to make it better. If you’re in a good mood, they keep it that way and if you’re in a bad mood, then your teammates are going to do or say something to change your whole mood.”

Johnson, who chose Kansas over schools like UCLA, Texas and UNLV, grew up in Gary, Ind., where basketball always played a large part in his life. Growing up, Johnson learned to be a team player at an early age. He credits his father for his passion for the sport.

“I’ve been playing since I was born,” Johnson said. “My dad coached high school ball in Indiana and my brother played. My family is a basketball family, so I was always playing. I’ve always loved it.”

One might say basketball is in Johnson’s blood. His father, Marcus, used to be a high school coach and instilled in him the importance of being unselfish as a point guard.

“He taught me to get my team involved,” Johnson said. “You have to know what each player does well so you can put them in that position to perform well. You can’t be selfish.”

His lessons in selflessness translated off the court as well. Although the neighborhood in Indiana was rough, Johnson knows it gave him the positive outlook he has for life today. Experiencing those early struggles has given him a chance to truly realize his current blessings.

“(Indiana) was tough, a really rough place,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff happen that makes me appreciate where I am today.”

While he spent his childhood in the rough streets of Gary, Johnson experienced high school in the bright lights of Las Vegas. The differences between his two homesteads were literally like night and day, with Johnson saying that in Las Vegas, “You sleep during the day and live at night out there.”

The pace and style changed for him on the court as well, as he averaged 15.9 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds at Cheyenne High School during his senior season. While he was leading his team to the Nevada State Championship game, the flashy city and its people sped around him.

“It is fast-paced. It’s no different than New York probably, just the West Coast version of New York. Everything is so fast. There are a lot lights, a lot of nightlife, out there.”

Johnson decided to leave those bright lights behind, choosing KU as his college destination. He credits the coaches, the tradition-rich history and the desire to play under Kansas head coach Bill Self for luring him to Lawrence, Kan.

Now here, he takes every opportunity to praise his teammates. The special bond between the players, Johnson feels, will translate onto the hardwood during games this season.

“No one person stands out, which is cool,” Johnson said about his teammates. “Everybody just gets along so well. We love each other, we care about each other. We care so much for each other that selfish thoughts don’t pop up too much. We are just happy to be out there with each other at KU.”

In addition to freeing the team of selfish acts, the chemistry created from their off-court bonds can also be helpful when Coach’s words just don’t seem to be getting through.

“If somebody says something to a teammate, it might actually get through to them when Coach (Self) has been explaining it another way. When Coach Self is explaining something, someone on the team might be able to say it in another way that makes sense.”

With all of this team talk and speak about unselfish behavior, it seemed only fitting that Johnson’s personal goals for the season be simple, straight-forward and completely unselfish as well.

“I just want the team to do even better than we did last year,” Johnson said.