LAWRENCE — Elijah Johnson can’t quite say he’s been in Marcus Garrett’s shoes, but the former Jayhawk standout can relate to one aspect of the current KU guard’s summer transformation.
After shooting 45.6 percent overall and 26.7 percent from 3-point range last season, Garrett is reworking his form under the guidance of assistant coach Kurtis Townsend in hopes of hitting more accurate clips as a sophomore. With KU losing 94.4 percent of its 3-point makes from a season ago and Garrett’s 12 made treys tops among all returning Jayhawks, the team is counting on the 6-foot-5 defensive spark plug taking a big leap forward on the offensive end.
Speaking to reporters following a past-and-present instrasquad scrimmage Wednesday at Horejsi Family Athletics Center, Johnson said that while he was never asked to drastically alter his shot during his four-year KU career (2009-13), he does remember hands-on instruction from KU coach Bill Self leading to an aha moment.
He cited one practice session in particular where Self, perched in a balcony at Allen Fieldhouse, stopped Johnson and shouted an analogy about shooting darts.
“One thing that coach Self does a lot is he uses analogies that we cannot relate to,” Johnson joked. “I’ve never played darts, I’ve never played golf, but he likes to use those analogies to help us understand. He used a dart analogy and ever since then I’ve been able to control my shot or know what I need to do to fix and/or tweak it.”
Garrett knows there’s a lot of work left to be done — though, to steal an analogy, he does seem to be getting closer to the bull’s-eye.
The process of rebuilding the Dallas native’s shot began just two days after the Jayhawks’ season-ending defeat to eventual national champion Villanova, a contest that saw Garrett go 0 for 4 in 18 minutes on the floor. The first step was instilling better discipline in Garrett’s hand placement — in his first season, he often just kept his hands wherever he caught the ball. Townsend stressed the importance of adjusting.
Garrett and the KU coaches realized the freshman’s shot needed work early on but decided any major overhaul needed to be reserved for the spring and summer months.
“It’s something I opened my eyes to (during the season), ’cause in high school the 3-point line was short, so basically anywhere I shot it I could still make it,” Garrett said. “But it’s a little bit farther back (in college), so once Coach told me what was wrong with it, I was open to fixing it.”
So how would Garrett grade his progress to this point?
“I feel like it’s changed now,” he said. “It was almost like the day after we lost I was already fixing it with K.T. (Townsend), and now it feels comfortable. It didn’t feel that comfortable when I first started working on it.”
Shooting, of course, won’t be Garrett’s lone responsibility next season.
He turned heads as a freshman with his strong effort on the defensive end, and Monday, Townsend listed Garrett among the options to replace Devonte’ Graham at point guard, although he is likely to only see time at that position in relief of redshirt sophomore Charlie Moore and freshman Devon Dotson.
Garrett said he felt comfortable last season in his few cameos at point guard.
“I played point guard my whole life. This is my first time ever not playing point guard,” Garrett said. “I always feel good having the ball.”
Also expect strides in finishing at the rim, where a stronger Garrett could surprise opponents with his driving abilities as he did at times last season, such as in KU’s Big 12-clinching victory at Texas Tech.
“I feel way better (at the rim). I feel like my legs feel a little lighter,” Garrett said. “During the season it was feeling heavy. That’s why I think I only had like one dunk. I felt like my legs were heavy. But now they feel great.”
As for the team losing virtually all of its 3-point offense last year, Garrett said he’s “not worried about that at all,” citing his confidence in Moore, K.J. Lawson, Dedric Lawson and Sam Cunliffe, among others, to pick up the slack.
Johnson, who spent extensive time around KU last season as a volunteer member of the Jayhawks’ practice team, said he believes the key for Garrett is finding that same confidence in himself.
“I’ve been around him and watched him shoot the ball great. I’ve seen him do it,” Johnson said. “But I’ve seen when he has to think about it and it’s a completely different situation. I think it’s more self-confidence, and I think he’s going to get a lot of that between now and the first tipoff.”
MOORE STARS AT SCRIMMAGE
Moore scored 26 points and hit six 3s as a lone highlight at the Jayhawks’ second and sloppier intrasquad scrimmage played in front of youth at the annual Bill Self Basketball Camps.
It was the second strong performance in as many scrimmages for Moore, who capped the first-to-80 contest with a steal and a layup that gave his Red squad an 80-44 victory over the Blue group. The Blue squad was mostly comprised of former KU standouts returning ahead of the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic charity event set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Free State High School.
Johnson, who only arrived in Lawrence at midnight Wednesday off a series of flights from Israel, joked with Moore after the contest that he didn’t appreciate the beat-down.
“I told Charlie, ‘We’re just getting off the planes, Wayne (Selden) just got here 40 minutes ago, I was still sleepy, and y’all want to run the score up on us? I don’t appreciate it. Have more respect for your elders.’ ” Johnson said. “But nah, I love it, man. I love those guys.”
Udoka Azubike (14 points) and Dedric Lawson (10 points) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Red squad, which pulled away when Moore caught fire late and peppered in a series of NBA-range 3-pointers.
“I like the way they play. I like the spirit. I like the attitude. I like the demeanor,” Johnson said of Moore and the Lawson brothers, all former transfers. “I’d rather them do it to me first. Then when I see them do it to other people I can be like, ‘Yeah, fall in line.’ But yeah, I like the way they play. I like it. I like this team.”