Here are a few numbers for both rookies from their senior years in high school:
Elijah Johnson: 15.9 ppg., 3.9 apg.
(Las Vegas Cheyenne High)
Thomas Robinson: 16 ppg., 13 rpg., 5 blocks per game.
(Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H)
Elijah Johnson found it difficult to traverse Kansas University’s hilly campus after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on June 23.
He leaned on a buddy — freshman basketball teammate and roommate Thomas Robinson — for support.
“There was a lot of stuff I couldn’t do because I couldn’t move like a normal person at a normal pace. Thomas pretty much took care of me those two to three weeks it took to get back to normal,” said Johnson, a 6-foot-2 combo guard from Las Vegas.
“He made sure we were on time to class. If I wanted something to eat and didn’t feel like walking downstairs to get in the car — or sit awkwardly in the car driving to the place and taking 30 minutes to walk into the restaurant — he’d say, ‘I’ll pick you up something. What do you have a taste for?’’’ Johnson added.
Robinson, who first met — and roomed with — Johnson at the Reebok All America Game last April in Washington, D.C., moved into a Jayhawker Towers apartment with Johnson just 10 days before Johnson’s surgery.
The 6-foot-9 power forward from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., had no hesitation in assisting his new pal.
“I knew his injury was kind of serious where he couldn’t walk around. I’m there, so I helped him,” Robinson said. “We have a close bond.”
Robinson, who grew up on the East coast (Washington, D.C.) and Johnson both the Midwest (Gary, Ind.) and West (Vegas), do not keep track of which roomie is ahead in the favors department.
“Every day we do stuff for each other, even the smallest stuff. We always take care of each other,” Johnson said, adding, “What’s mine is his. What’s his is mine, whether it be food, DVD player, whatever. We don’t have to ask each other for permission.
“We hang out a lot. For the most part, if you see Thomas, you’ll probably see me. You see me, you’ll probably see him.”
Robinson said the friendship hasn’t been one-sided.
“Elijah thinks ahead of things as far as keeping the apartment straight, what homework we’ve got to do,” said Robinson, who is enrolled in 12 hours of coursework with Johnson this semester.
“He’s always mapping out something that’ll make it easier for us.”
Some of KU’s returning players have taken it upon themselves to help the two rookies adjust to college.
Robinson — who has bulked from 219 pounds to 235 since arriving on campus in late May — has been mentored by sophomore big man Markieff Morris.
“He’s been like my big brother. He’s pretty much taken me under his wing,” Robinson said. “I have a tendency of moving too fast. He’ll slow me down, tell me what to do, how to do it the right way. He’ll fill me in on what I should expect, what not to do so I don’t get in trouble, stuff like that.”
Johnson — who was cleared for full physical activity two weeks ago — has been tutored by sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor.
“Tyshawn’s only been here a year, but the small stuff he picked up in a year he’s helping me with already, like attacking and being aggressive,” Johnson said.
“He told me it’s going to get hard, real hard, and there will be a point where I don’t feel like playing basketball and that will be my test. He said, ‘As crazy as that might sound, you are going to see what I mean one day.’ When he said that he kind of gave me a look. I keep picturing that look every time I think about the season.”
Johnson and Robinson say they appreciate the help of their new teammates, but frankly haven’t found the overall adjustment to college too difficult yet.
“Going to prep school helped a lot. I grew up so much last year,” Robinson said. “Academically it’s tougher, but as far as me knowing how to prepare for it, I wouldn’t say hard at all. I learned time management at prep school,” added Robinson, who checks in with his mom, Lisa, and 6-year-old sister, Jayla Paris, via phone once a day.
Johnson — he calls his dad, Marcus, in Vegas at least every other day and mom, Yolanda, in Indiana regularly as well — said his schedule is such there’s no time to slack off.
“It’s pretty much the same as high school. There’s just no babying around. You take your own notes and get to class on your own,” Johnson said, explaining his and Robinson’s routine is, “getting up every day at 7. Going to class at 8. After our class schedule is finished, there’s something we have to do — whether working out, lifting weights, playing some ball, tutoring. By then it’s 7 at night.
“It’s not really tiring. It’s a mental thing about not being lazy. We have a schedule, basically a work schedule, so it’s like, ‘Welcome to adulthood,’’’ Johnson added.
Johnson and Robinson have received a quick education on the court.
They are amazed at the talent coach Bill Self and his assistants have assembled for the 2009-10 season.
“It’s crazy,” Robinson said. “Everybody is so competitive in pick-up because we all want to win. We’re competitive in everything. We can get in a shoe-tying contest and be competitive.
“We have this little machine in the weight room — a dancing-type machine where we have to move our feet on a pad. Wherever the dot lights up, your foot has to be on a spot on the mat. It’s for quickness. We’ll spend 30 minutes on it trying to beat each other.”
Noted Johnson: “Every day there’s a new best player (in pick-up). There’s not one person who comes in the gym and does the same thing every day. When you win, the next day somebody will remember that from the day before and say, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’’’
Johnson and Robinson remain hopeful they can contribute meaningful minutes amid KU’s ultra-talented mix.
“I will work so hard. I know I’ll work to the point where I think I deserve playing time,” said Robinson, who practices with both the big men and perimeter players in individual workouts.
“We have so many players that can do more than one thing. I won’t worry about that (minutes). I’ll do what I’m asked,” added Robinson, who averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks last season at prep school.
Johnson — he said he’d prefer to not red-shirt — is open to minutes large or small.
“This might sound a little weird ... minutes mean something to me, but don’t mean as much to me as people probably think,” said Johnson, who averaged 15.9 points and 3.9 assists his senior season at Cheyenne High.
“This is a year I really want to learn so I am moreso watching Tyshawn and Sherron’s (Collins) every move to see what they do wrong I don’t do wrong. This is a learning year for me more than a minutes year. If coach told me at the beginning of the season he’d play me 30 seconds every game, I better make the most of those 30 seconds.”
Junior center Cole Aldrich believes both are capable of producing.
“Elijah can really handle the ball. He’s so athletic,” Aldrich said. “He reminds me of Mario (Chalmers) a little bit, but also has a little streetball swagger to him.”
Aldrich has already had some intense inside battles for position versus Robinson.
“He is athletic, has a great body to him. He can step out and hit a good 15-, 17-foot jumper,” Aldrich said. “There are little things he’ll start to learn of how to use it (body) and when to use it in different ways. Once he learns that, he’ll be really tough,” Aldrich said, adding that the best thing about Robinson is “his willingness to do the things he needs to do and listen.”
Robinson and Johnson are obviously willing to listen to KU’s veterans.
“Cole is an artist at what he does down low. When it comes to footwork, he’s the real deal,” Robinson said. “He is a big role model for me. Things started out slow for him, now he’s a future lottery pick. Why not try to model that person’s game?
“I feel Cole and Sherron are at the point they can turn it on whenever they want. They can turn it on and there’s no stopping them.”
Just as there’s no way of slowing Johnson and Robinson’s budding friendship.
“Since the start, we’ve been beside each other,” Johnson said.