Exiled from the court due to the torn Achilles tendon he suffered last summer, Xavier Johnson has been forced into his own routine.
Much of that routine has involved around endless rotations up and down the Coors Events Center stairs in hopes of recovering in time to salvage what was supposed to be Johnson's senior season with coach Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes.
During a recent workout, Johnson tapped the shoulder of a certain reporter while making his rounds on the stairs. The fellow in question had recently published an article outlining Johnson's will-he-or-won't-he dilemma regarding a possible medical redshirt season in which he noted Johnson's 2014-15 production has been capably replaced by transfer Josh Fortune and the emergence of George King.
Flashing his winning smile while layered in the sweat of another dutiful yet ultimately unfulfilling rehab workout, Johnson, with a laugh, proclaimed, "You know I'm not replaceable, right?"
It was a moment of levity in an often tedious routine, and a moment that also displayed the cool confidence that has made XJ a steady contributor from the moment he arrived in Boulder.
Unfortunately for Johnson, in the case of the 2015-16 CU Buffaloes, his jovial contention also is wrong. Johnson has been replaced, perhaps to a surprising degree than originally expected when word of his injury surfaced last summer.
And so at this point, it will be best for both Johnson and the team if he takes that medical redshirt with an eye on returning at full strength in 2016-17.
It may be stating the obvious at this point. Johnson has been participating in shooting drills but is not yet practicing in full with the team. The original best-case scenario of having Johnson back in time for the beginning of Pac-12 Conference play on Jan. 1 no longer is feasible. Even Boyle said on Saturday night that while XJ may actually be ahead of schedule in his recovery, he is not yet physically ready to play.
If he returns later in January, the question becomes whether Johnson can be effective enough to contribute meaningfully for the Buffs in a truncated season. Moreover, will there be room for a still-rounding-into-shape XJ in a CU rotation that already leans toward crowded?
Those are the questions facing both Boyle and Johnson. And for XJ, those considerations are probably going to cause more headaches than any questions he faced this past week during final exams.
Johnson and Boyle met with team doctors on Saturday to evaluate Johnson's recovery and discuss the future. Boyle said Johnson will travel with the team to Las Vegas and then take time to mull the pros and cons of the situation with his family. Boyle also said the decision is entirely in Johnson's hands.
One gets the sense Johnson isn't overly thrilled with the idea of another year of school. Nothing wrong with that. Most students, athlete or not, likely would prefer to get the school part of college done in four years rather than five.
Johnson, though, is a guy who openly professes his desire to earn paychecks on the basketball court in the near future. And so he must face the facts. Returning to a team that has no obvious role available to him, at what likely will be less than full strength, can only hurt XJ's pro prospects.
Certainly a fully healthy Johnson would be an asset to any team. Yet where would he fit in on a Buffs team that has cited team chemistry as one of its strengths during a 10-1 start? Boyle already has three players sharing two starting spots in Fortune, King, and Tre'Shaun Fletcher. XJ brings a little more height to the floor than those three, but the general skill set is similar.
Moreover, a fully healthy Johnson would be the main man for the Buffs next year. At the time of Johnson's injury it was assumed his absence this season would be glaring. It's not. The same could be said of the hole in the paint Josh Scott will leave behind after this season. While XJ doesn't offer that sort of dominant interior presence, it isn't hard to envision how he and Derrick White (sitting out a transfer season this year) could combine to replace Scott's overall production.
Much like how King and Fortune have filled XJ's void.
Johnson needs 10 points to join CU's 1,000-point scorer club. For XJ and the program, hopefully he hits that milestone in the first game of 2016-17.