During pre-game warmups for Iowa on Tuesday night, all signs were pointing to near term return for fifth-year point guard Xavier Johnson.
But IU basketball coach Mike Woodson still doesn’t know if that return will happen on Sunday when the Hoosiers conclude the regular season at home against Michigan.
Johnson was a full participant in pre-game warmups Tuesday, and to the untrained eye he looked physically ready to go. He was dunking in the layup lines and moving like someone preparing to play.
Here is one example of Johnson changing direction and planting on his surgically repaired right foot on Tuesday:
— Mike Schumann @ The Daily Hoosier (@daily_hoosier) February 28, 2023
But coming off foot surgery just over two months ago, warming up, and playing in a Big Ten basketball game are obviously two very different endeavors.
And then there’s the obvious question — how effective can Johnson be even if he’s physically ready to go?
And at least as of Friday morning, Johnson still seems to be in the gray area between ready to play and working his way back.
“Don’t know much yet, can’t give you any info on that yet,” Woodson said via Zoom on Friday morning when asked about Johnson’s readiness to play. “Today we’ve got to go through practice and see where he is. He hasn’t really practiced a lot, so we’ve got to just see where it takes us today.”
Woodson’s statement that Johnson “hasn’t practiced a lot” is itself progress. When he was last asked about his season opening starter, the second year IU coach said Johnson was still not engaged in full contact activities.
It’s a tricky time late in the season to try to bring back a key player. Woodson will welcome Johnson if he’s ready, but for now he has to prepare as if he’s not.
Or perhaps he has to prepare on a bit of a dual path.
“I’m counting on the guys that have been playing, and we’ve just go to see where he is right now,” Woodson said.
Johnson started all 11 games he was available this season before suffering the injury during the first half at Kansas. He is averaging 9.9 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 41.5 percent from the field overall including 37 percent from beyond the arc.
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