Move over Mario Chalmers, there's a new #15 in town.
Rest easy. Now that my catchy introduction has sucked you in, I assure you that Elijah Johnson isn't in the same stratosphere of "The Best Basketball Player in the World." Hell, he doesn't even have a seat at the dinner table with Chalmers alongside Tommie Frazier, Tim Salmon, and Ron World Peace.
But that hasn't deterred me from noticing the volleyball-sized Grapefruits dangling between Johnson's legs this past week and a half. My Lawrence sources (very reliable) tell me that EJ's short size has gone from Large to Holy shit, I can't believe he took that deep of a three against Purdue with the game on the line for a basketball-obsessed university when he's the fourth best player on the team XXL.
February 4th, 2012. Mizzou Arena. Kansas and Missouri. KU blows an 8 point lead with just over 2 minutes left to play. KU down 3 with 10 seconds left. Everybody knows what play is coming. We'd seen it before in the 2007 Big 12 Championship Game. We'd seen it before in the National Championship Game. This play has an undisputed track record. But who gets to take the shot?
Elijah Johnson does. Well, sorta. The play unfolds perfectly (can be seen here, starting at 0:34). Tyshawn dribbles down the right side, hands off to EJ, who comes off the Travis Releford screen for a wide open look at the top of the key. And then? He doesn't shoot. Well, he eventually does, but not when he's supposed to. He misses terribly. In Miami, Chalmers gets stoned on a beach out of disgust.
This is so much worse than pulling the trigger and missing. I can't begin to describe how disappointing it was to see EJ afraid of the moment like that. He went Lebron in the 4th quarter of an NBA Finals game on us. He pulled a Jay Cutler in the NFC Championship Game. I didn't want the ball near EJ's hands with the game on the line ever again.
Elijah Johnson hits the biggest shot in three straight NCAA Tournament games, sending the Kansas Jayhawks to the 2012 Final Four.
vs. Purdue - Johnson essentially carries the team on his back on a night where both T-Rob and Tyshawn play horrifically. EJ scores 13 second half points, hits a three to give KU its first lead of the game with 3 minutes left (SHOT #1), throws a mystifying alley-oop pass to his guard-mate, captures a steal and finishes on the other end to give the Jayhawks a lead they never relinquished.
vs. NC State - KU controls the game until they go ice cold in the final 4 minutes. NC State closes to within 1 point to the shock of my at-home audience. Following a missed Tyshawn FT that goes out of bounds off NC State, EJ makes a backdoor cut right to the basket, receives the ball and finishes (SHOT #2) securing KU's spot in the Elite 8.
vs. North Carolina - A heavyweight battle. A back n' forth slugfest that sees little separation until EJ bangs home a three from the wing (SHOT #3), putting KU up 71-67 with just over 3 minutes to play. The Jayhawks score the next 9 points to send themselves to the Final Four.
How and when did this transformation happen? Johnson was widely criticized throughout the season for never realizing his potential, shooting 33% from downtown, and shooting blanks inside Mizzou Arena. To his benefit, and for the better or worse of anybody involved in College Basketball, you're judged for what you do in the NCAA Tournament. Especially at a program like Kansas.
Well, Elijah, you got two more games to make your case over The Lawrence Legend, and fellow #15 brother, Mario Chalmers. Who knows, maybe one day you'll be the one asking a lucky KU coed "Who's The Best Basketball Player in the World?"