It’s safe to say that Hannah Johnson really didn’t have a choice in becoming a basketball player.
After all, her father, Charles “Mandy” Johnson, was a basketball superstar during his heyday in the 80s. One of the all-time greats to ever play at St. Anthony, Johnson went on to have a fine career at Marquette University and was drafted by the Indiana Pacers of the NBA. Mandy Johnson is a member of the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame.
It doesn’t stop there. Hannah’s mother, Jeannette Verga, was a standout in both basketball and track and field at St. Dominic Academy in the late 1980s.
It goes one step even further. Hannah has an older sister, Amanda, who played basketball at County Prep and her older brother, Matthew, was a fine basketball player a few years ago at County Prep and even earned Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week honors in 2007.
“Mom was always one of those who wanted to get me involved in sports,” said Hannah Johnson, now a junior at St. Dominic Academy. “Dad didn’t know I really wanted to play basketball, but when he did, he’d always ask, ‘Are you ready for this?’ Dad was always there, always working with me.”
And does Hannah get reminders about her family lineage?
“All the time,” Johnson said. “Referees, fans, all ask me that if I’m related to Mandy Johnson. I’m used to it.”
When he took over the St. Dominic program this season, new head coach David Wunsch was aware of Johnson’s background.
“I knew her father and mother were both good players, so she comes from good genes,” Wunsch said.
Wunsch also knew that it wasn’t a bad place to start.
“The one thing I like about Hannah is her energy and enthusiasm,” Wunsch said. “I knew right away she was a special player with a great personality. She’s very energetic.”
Johnson knew that this was going to be a big year in her development as a player, so she spent the summer months playing top-flight AAU basketball in Paterson for the Pioneers’ program.
“It helped me a lot, because I played with a lot older kids,” Johnson said. “It helped me learn different moves to the basket. I felt I became a much better player.”
When the time came for the high school season to begin, Johnson realized she had definitely improved.
“It was good to know that I could score,” Johnson said. “I could take it to the basket. I don’t feel like I have to, but I am a scorer.”
However, Wunsch believes that Johnson contributes a lot without putting the ball in the basket.
“She can win a game without even scoring,” Wunsch said. “She doesn’t need to feel the pressure that she needs to score. I think she likes to play defense more than she likes to score. That’s what I wanted to see, because I’m a defensive minded coach. She does so many things with her defense and her rebounding.”
Lately, Johnson has been doing a little bit of everything for the Blue Devils, who have won four straight to improve to 10-5 overall. Johnson has been filling up the stat sheets for SDA every game.
Johnson scored 25 points, had seven rebounds and nine steals in a win over Hudson Catholic, avenging a loss from two weeks ago. She had 11 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds and eight steals in a win over St. Anthony, had 20 points, 10 steals, five rebounds, five assists and seven blocked shots in a win over Hoboken and added 19 points, seven steals, six rebounds and four blocks in a win Tuesday night against Union City.
That’s some impressive run, especially when you add on the other impressive statistics.
For her efforts, Johnson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. She joins her brother, who earned the honor in March of 2007, as another brother-sister combination to earn the honor.
Johnson likes the way her overall game has improved.
“I don’t feel like I have to be the one who does all the scoring,” Johnson said. “I want to get everyone involved. There are other girls on the team who can make shots. We’ve all been together since I’ve been a freshman, so we know how each other plays. I knew I had to step up a bit this year and make better decisions with the ball, make better passes to my teammates.”
Wunsch doesn’t want Johnson to try to do too much.
“The one thing I told her is that she didn’t have to be our top scorer all the time, that we had other players who could score,” Wunsch said. “But she can dominate the game in so many other ways. That’s what I’m most impressed with.”
Wunsch would like to see Johnson work on her free throw shooting.
“The way she plays, she slashes to the basket so much and gets fouled,” Wunsch said. “She could be a 20-point per game scorer if she could improve with her free throws. Even if she was just an average free throw shooter, she’d score 20 every game. She leaves too many points on the floor with her free throws. I still think she’s learning the game. She has such raw talent. I think her better basketball is ahead of her.”
Johnson has a major goal in mind: To play college basketball like her father did.
“That is the No. 1 goal,” Johnson said. “I want to play in college so badly. Hopefully, that can happen.”
It almost didn’t happen.
“My freshman year, I was struggling with my grades and I was booted off the team,” Johnson said. “That was a wake-up call for me. I’m doing better in school and in basketball. No question, that changed me.”
Obviously, it was a change for the better. No one can argue with the results.
“I’m definitely surprised,” Johnson said. “I’m shocked that I could be Athlete of the Week. It’s really amazing. I just hope I’m finally becoming the player that I want to be.”
The statistics don’t lie. Hannah Johnson is getting there. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.