As the Colorado Buffaloes wrapped up a recent session from their annual summer youth basketball camps, Xavier Johnson took his place among his teammates to sign autographs for wide-eyed camp-goers, most of whom Johnson towered over by at least two feet.
The same couldn't be said of Johnson a year ago, when a torn Achilles forced Johnson to work the camp from a scooter, keeping him closer to eye level with the possible future Buffs.
This week marked the one-year anniversary since Johnson endured surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon he suffered earlier in June 2015. The injury wiped out what was supposed to be Johnson's senior season in 2015-16, but at the one-year mark Johnson reports he is nearly up to speed.
"I'm about 90 percent. I'm getting there," Johnson said. "I'm working extra and my Achilles feels fine. My Achilles is great and it's healed up beautifully. I've just got to get my calf strength back. Doing that takes a little more time, but it's coming along."
While Johnson maintained thoughts of an in-season comeback throughout last year, head coach Tad Boyle was more of a realist, figuring his Buffs would be without Johnson for the duration while leaving the door cracked open for a possible pleasant surprise in Johnson's return to court.
That never came to fruition, with Johnson finally declaring after the Buffs' fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons that he would return in 2016-17 as a fifth-year senior. Boyle had yet to deal with a torn Achilles in any of his players in 10 seasons as a Division I head coach and described the ordeal as a learning experience.
"He's certainly closer," Boyle said. "This is my first experience with an Achilles rupture, and I remember talking to Chauncey (Billups) about this because he went through it late in his career. He told me it will be a year before he feels normal. And we're right at a year now. He's just finally getting his bounce back and getting to look like the old XJ.
"He's not in tip-top shape yet but he'll get there. It's a really difficult injury to come back from. They say it's harder than the ACL, and after seeing it I believe it."
Johnson averaged 10.4 points in 95 games over his first three seasons, including a career-high 12 points per game as a sophomore in 2013-14. Johnson is a career .472 shooter from the floor with a .382 mark from 3-point range. Assuming Johnson's progress continues without a setback, he will need only 10 points in CU's season opener at home against Sacramento State on Nov. 11 to become the 33rd Buffaloes player to collect 1,000 points in his career.
"My explosiveness is definitely coming, but it's still going to be a while," Johnson said. "It will still be a while before it all comes back but I'm feeling good about it. But it's fine and I'm not worried about it. I'm just making sure I'm ready to play. I'm nothing if I can't play."