‘I’m here for a reason.’ IU basketball’s Xavier Johnson key to a season he never expected.

Xavier Johnson’s remarkable journey has brought him to where he is now, starting with an unexpected no last December. After nursing a broken foot and stewing over his first serious injury in five years, he refused a sixth year of eligibility when his coach, Mike Woodson, brought it up. Johnson, a Woodbridge, Va., native, initially planned a short college career before transferring to Indiana, certain his second season there would be his last. As late as the final days of the previous season, he toyed with the idea of returning for an NCAA tournament push. Now, he finds himself in a completely different role as captain, having learned to embrace his unexpected journey, and believing in the timing of things.

This season, Johnson revealed pointed comments from Woodson calling out players who lacked focus and poor practice effort, a reflection of the coach’s high standards. Despite an ugly performance in a win against Army, Johnson took the responsibility for team-wide effort, demonstrating a transition into a leadership role, a far cry from the frustrations he had when playing for Pitt and navigating his challenges at Indiana.

Having settled into his role as the floor general, Johnson sees his leadership capabilities in younger teammates while recognizing the same challenges he faced himself. Woodson has been harder on Johnson than other players, and in Johnson’s sixth and final year, he’s started to sound like him. Although getting used to facing the unexpected has been difficult, Johnson’s injury-driven rethink of his future and embracing a sixth year of eligibility have brought a blessing instead.

Now, Johnson is back for another year, aspiring for a championship, embracing the challenge, and aiming for a Big Ten banner, with hopes of ending the 36-year national title drought. He has established himself as one of the most creative players in the Big Ten, a sentiment strongly echoed by his coach, despite facing setbacks during his time at Indiana.


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