With Josh Scott and George King leading the way all season, the Colorado men's basketball team built an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume.

They got contributions not only from Scott and King, but from a host others en route to going 22-11. While it's been a great season, the Buffs and their fans have often wondered, "How good would this team be with Xavier Johnson?"

After tearing his Achilles tendon last summer, the 6-foot-7 Johnson has missed the entire season, but it doesn't mean he hasn't made an impact.

Johnson, who has started 66 games in his career, would have been a senior this season and took it upon himself to act like a senior.

"I provide a lot of input for the freshman," he said. "And I feel like I've had that voice between the coaches and players, as far as that voice that maybe a player doesn't agree with the coach, but maybe it's something I can see from a coaching aspect."

Johnson's always been known as an emotional player, and there was some question about how he'd channel his emotion while sitting out. Head coach Tad Boyle has been pleased with how XJ has handled the situation.

"Being injured is really difficult, because as much as you want to feel a part of it, you don't," Boyle said. "It's a real difficult position to be in as a player, especially if you've never been injured before. But XJ has handled it well, and he's helped us along the way."


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Johnson said he's grown up a lot in the past year and has learned to use his emotions to help the Buffs.

"I try to be emotional in different aspects, trying to be a leader and trying to get my teammates riled up, so they're ready to play," he said. "My senior year, I was going to be a humble kid anyway and be ready to play. I'm just happy that I'm healing and I'm practicing now and I'm getting back to it."

Nearing a full recovery, XJ has been participating in practice the last several weeks and is now a full participant in practice. He doesn't have the explosiveness he had before, but he's got the same intensity, and he provides his teammates with a top-notch competitor to battle in practice.

When Johnson has the opportunity to beat a teammate one-on-one for a bucket, he takes it. In the past, he might have followed that up with a bit of friendly trash talk. Now he turns it into a teaching moment.

"I help them, like, 'This is what I saw when you were playing defense, so this is why I did this,' " Johnson said. "I'm not only just being an aggressive threat, but I'm also trying to teach at the same time."

It hasn't been an easy year for Johnson, especially when the Buffs go on the road and he stays in Boulder. He's managed to make the most of it, though.

Now, many wonder how long Johnson will stay in Boulder. He graduates in May but could use this season as a redshirt year and return to the court for the Buffs next season.

"I haven't (decided) yet," he said. "Most likely I'm coming back. I just want to make sure. I have to talk to coach and make sure we're on the same page. I want to be a big contribution to this team, so I want to make sure I'm happy and he's happy."

Asked about his other options, Johnson smiled and said, "So far, I'm going to come back."

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.