Johnson expected to play against Chattanooga

DES MOINES, Iowa — After spending nearly the last month on the sideline nursing a high-ankle sprain, Robert Johnson appears poised to return to action.

Indiana coach Tom Crean said the sophomore guard is probable to play in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Chattanooga, telling reporters that Johnson has been more active in practice and appears ready to get back on the floor.

“He’s been making progress,” Crean said.

Johnson appeared to be a full participant during IU’s open practice on Wednesday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena, running through drills and shooting with teammates throughout the 40-minute session.

Johnson has only recently returned to full speed behind the scenes. He worked out in halfcourt situation on Monday and made his return to a full-court practice on Tuesday.

“Every day I’m feeling stronger and better,” Johnson said. “I think I’m at a point where I can go out there and give it a try, hopefully.”

How much will Johnson play? That answer depends on a few factors, including the movement of his left ankle and his pain threshold. Johnson said the pain “wasn’t too bad” during Tuesday’s full-court practice.

A day later, Johnson said the ankle isn’t any more sore than usual.

Tuesday’s return to practice was the latest recovery checkpoint hit by Johnson, who participated in IU’s pregame warmup prior to Friday’s Big Ten Tournament opener against Michigan.

“I was definitely thinking about (playing against Michigan),” Johnson said. “It wasn’t just my decision, so it’s just one of those things where we decided not to give it a go. … With having the extra week, we got it that much more stronger and tested. I really tested where that was at, and I think that was good for me.”

Johnson hasn’t played since Feb. 20 against Purdue when he had to be carried off the floor late in the second half by strength and conditioning coach Lyonel Anderson. Johnson started 22 of the first 28 games he played this season, averaging 8.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists, while standing out as arguably IU’s most consistent guard on the defensive end.

On the eve of IU’s biggest game of the year, Johnson said he’s hoping to make an impact when the Hoosiers take the court Thursday against Chattanooga.

“I definitely think that me playing would help us, or give us a better chance to win,” he said. “Just for the simple fact that it’s another guy out there that can help defensively and follow the game plan.”