Confidence on the court has never been an issue for Xavier Johnson, but the Colorado sophomore looks even more confident than ever before.
CU will expect a lot from the 6-foot-7 forward this season, and so far in practice he has delivered.
"I've always been a confident guy, but I can definitely say it's renewed," Johnson said. "Coming in freshman year is a little bit of a struggle, and it was difficult, but you learn and you get better every day. I made great strides last year as a freshman."
Now that he's a sophomore, he's hoping to make even greater strides.
Johnson started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 24.0 minutes per contest. He finished fifth on the team in scoring (8.9 points per game), third in rebounding (4.8 per game) and, among the 10 players who saw at least 100 minutes of court time, he led the squad in field-goal percentage (51.5).
This season, he and the Buffs are hoping to get even more.
"I think he'll be more productive, yeah," assistant coach Mike Rohn said. "I think he's more confident this year, because any time you've been through the program, you know what coach is saying before he says it. That just naturally gives you more confidence."
With Andre Roberson, who finished second in the country with 11.2 rebounds per game, now in the NBA, the Buffs have a void to fill in the paint. Johnson is expected to have a key role in that regard, and Rohn sees no reason why Johnson won't grab more boards.
"A lot of that maybe depends on who he's on the court with," Rohn said. "If he's on the court with Josh (Scott) and Wes (Gordon), they're going to be competing for some rebounds, but he's got the ability. He can get 10 (per game), he can get 11. He can do what Andre did."
Johnson said he's not looking to fill Roberson's shoes, but he does feel he can put up big numbers in the rebounding category.
"I was big at rebounding last year when I put my mind to it, so if I put my mind to it again I think I can do it," he said.
Johnson will likely get rebounds in a different way, though. Roberson spent much of his time near the paint, but Johnson is an exceptional outside shooter. He hit 43.9 percent of his 3-pointers last year, and will still be a major weapon from the perimeter. All that means, though, is that Johnson will have to move a lot more to get to rebounds.
"X is going to have to play consistently hard from outside the 3-point line to keep chasing that ball down," Rohn said.
So far, he is showing a willingness to do that. He's been one of CU's most competitive players in practice and has put a more all-around game on display.
"I've been working on my game this whole summer," he said.
Johnson said he spent a lot of his time working on his ball handling ability, as well as being able to shoot off the dribble.
In addition, Rohn said Johnson is becoming a harder worker on defense.
"I think defensively his mindset is a little better and he knows that's something he's got to get better at," Rohn said.
Scott, a fellow sophomore, can already see a change in Johnson, and he's looking forward to being on the court with him this season.
"He's a lot smarter," Scott said. "He's matured a lot in terms of knowing what's a good shot, knowing he has to rebound and play defense. It's been a good change."
A lot of the change comes from maturity and experience, and it has allowed Johnson to enjoy the game a little more.
"It's good not being a freshman anymore," he said with a laugh.