Cheyenne product Johnson savors chance to earn spot with Clippers


Elijah Johnson would love to be Chris Paul’s backup at point guard. But he’s not the only player auditioning for the job.

Johnson, a former Kansas combo guard from Cheyenne High School, is playing for the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA Summer League, trying to impress first-year Clippers coach Doc Rivers. And even though Johnson will be competing with veteran guards Darren Collison, Jared Dudley and J.J. Reddick — who came to the team in the offseason — for a spot on the roster for the 2013-14 season, he says he doesn’t feel additional pressure to show he can play both backcourt spots at the NBA level.

“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, and you’re always having to prove yourself. This is just another challenge,” said the 6-foot-3-inch Johnson, who scored five points on 2-for-6 shooting and had two rebounds, one assist, two steals and two turnovers in 16 minutes of a 90-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday at Cox Pavilion.

With Rivers, Paul and power forward Blake Griffin watching on the first day of league play, Johnson tried to show all facets of his game.

“I was just shooting open shots and not trying to force it,” he said. “I’m just trying to make good decisions when I’m out there. But I didn’t think the pace was too fast, not at all. I was very comfortable.”

Johnson said several NBA teams courted him after he went undrafted last month, and he signed with the Clippers because they offered him the best opportunity to prove himself.

“They may have a lot of guards, but they didn’t draft any guards,” he said, referring to forward Reggie Bullock, the Clippers’ only pick.

Paul came by, gave Johnson a pat on the back and told him he did a good job. Johnson nodded thanks and said, “When something like that happens, it can only help your confidence. It’s nice to know (Paul) was watching.”

■ BENNETT NO-SHOW — Anthony Bennett wasn’t going to play in the summer league after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder in May. But the former UNLV star forward, selected by Cleveland with the No. 1 pick in the draft, wasn’t on the Cavaliers’ bench Friday for their game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bennett initially was expected to accompany the team to Las Vegas for the start of the league and attend practices and games. But a Cavaliers spokesman said Bennett won’t arrive until Tuesday.

■ LJ WATCHES — UNLV basketball legend Larry Johnson, watching the action Friday, said he hopes to be in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 8 when former Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“It’s going to be a great night for Coach Tark, and I’d love to be there to share it with him,” said Johnson, who works for the New York Knicks as a member of their community relations staff.

■ SHUMPERT STINT — Knicks veteran guard Iman Shumpert played 27 minutes in New York’s 77-72 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Shumpert, entering his third NBA season, missed 45 games last season after undergoing surgery on his left knee for a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Coach Mike Woodson wanted him to play in the summer league to work on his point-guard skills.

“It’s my first time out here to get some work in, get some explosiveness back in my leg and work with the new guys,” Shumpert said.

Shumpert scored two points, shot 0-for-5 from the field and had six rebounds, four assists and four turnovers against the Pelicans.

“I was trying to move the ball and facilitate things,” he said.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

 

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