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Indiana Basketball Returner Focus: Senior Guard Xavier Johnson



Nov 18, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Indiana basketball guard Xavier Johnson (0) dribbles against Xavier Musketeers guard Souley Boum (0) in the first half at Cintas Center. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana basketball program is going to look a whole lot different with many new faces coming in this season plus the new versatile style of play that is expected to take place.

While there are many new faces to the program, the Hoosiers will return six players with the experience to help lead the new group.

Earlier this offseason, we took a look at all the new players in our Indiana basketball Newcomer Focus series. Now, we will focus on the guys that will return for Mike Woodson and Indiana this upcoming season.

For today, we take a look at senior guard Xavier Johnson and look back at last year plus his role for the 2023-2024 Indiana basketball season.

Last Season Reflection

The 2022-2023 college basketball season did not go the way that Xavier Johnson or Indiana basketball thought it would go for him to say the least. After finishing very strong in the 2021-2022 season, there were high expectations that Johnson would break out last season however, after suffering a broken foot in the Kansas game on Dec. 17, his season was done.

Johnson only played a total of 11 games last season where he started as the primary ballhandler for the Hoosiers alongside freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino in backcourt.

Going into last season, there were many questions as to how Johnson and Hood-Schifino would play alongside one another with both player’s style being on-ball dominant for the majority. While there was high promise that the pairing would work for the long term of the season, injuries would put a stop on that potential.

In the 11 games that Johnson played in, he averaged 9.9 points on 41.5 percent shooting (34-of-82) while also leading the team in assists at 4.9 per game. He also contributed 3.3 total rebounds per game, as well.

While there was talk about Johnson returning at some point last season, his family, Mike Woodson and himself felt it would be best apply for a medical hardship wavier for a chance to return for a 6th college basketball season.

Johnson did not want to disrupt the team chemistry that Indiana had built in his absence plus a return to Indiana this upcoming season would give Johnson the opportunity to finish out his college career on a higher note.

Role for 2023-24 Season

In late April, it was announced that Xavier Johnson’s medical hardship waiver had been approved by the NCAA and that he would be returning to play for Mike Woodson and Indiana basketball.

After months of waiting for the approval and questions of who was going to be leading the Indiana backcourt next season, the Hoosiers had their point guard. While there was always optimism that Johnson would get an extra year, there were still uneasy feelings until it became official.

In many people’s eyes, this was the best ‘addition’ that Indiana had this offseason. The questions were still there as far as Johnson’s health heading into the offseason and if he would be a full participate come summer workout.

“I’m 100 (percent),” Johnson simply and confidently said to the media earlier this offseason. 

It can’t go without saying how huge it was for Mike Woodson and Indiana to have Xavier Johnson back this upcoming season. With the inexperience of the younger backcourt players plus Jalen Hood-Schifino off to the NBA, having the experienced Johnson back is key to how much success Indiana could have this year.

The role for Xavier Johnson in the 2023-2024 season is simple; be the primary ball handler and one of the leaders of this team, and especially the backcourt.

The key for Johnson, like it has been his entire career at Indiana, is consistency and playing under control. One of Johnson’s best assets on the floor is his ability to be lightning quick up-and-down the floor and make plays for his teammates. However, when Johnson forces his playmaking, it can cause problems with Indiana’s flow om the offense.

He also returns as one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten and will play major role in Indiana’s defensive game plan.

While his basketball role is pretty clear this season, he will also be responsible to help lead the young guys along like Gabe Cupps, who is viewed as Indiana’s lead guard in waiting. The experience and lessons that Johnson can pass to someone like Cupps will be huge in the long term for this Indiana program.

Mike Woodson has his ‘quarterback’ for the 2023-2024 Hoosiers and Xavier Johnson has a chance to help lead Indiana to their third-straight NCAA Tournament birth.

Notable Quote

“It’s been a long process, honestly,” said Xavier Johnson when speaking to the media earlier this spring. “I had to see it all through, talked to my coach (Woodson) and my family. The best option was to come back to school just for the benefit of my health. I would say I thought I was gonna come back in February, late February, but I think it was best for the team just to keep competing (last year) without me and I’ll just be there to support.”

“X (Xavier) hung in there with me. He fought me at times, but it worked out well for him at the end and for our ballclub,” Woodson said going into last season. “Watching him go through his summer work, because he did taste some success, it’s the first time he had experienced being in the big dance, he really — I mean, he just came in with a totally different attitude, which was kind of nice to see. It means to me he’s growing up.”

SEE ALSO: Indiana basketball ushering in a new, versatile style of play starting next season

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Kyler Staley is a Basketball Recruiting Analyst for Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Kyler has been in the basketball recruiting industry since 2019 and is a credentialed media member. He has covered Indiana since 2021 while continuing to also work for Prep Hoops Indiana. He has previously worked for Rivals.