The Duncan Banner
When Ariah Johnson got to Velma-Alma, she was forced to accept one of the toughest things an athlete can be asked to do — sit out.
Transferring from Fox in her sophomore year forced her to miss that season and most of the her junior year. When she finally made her Comet debut, her athleticism and scoring helped her team to an area consolation final appearance. That proved to be just a preview of things to come as Johnson lit up the scoreboard this season in her one and only full season at Velma-Alma girls basketball.
Leading a 20-win team in points earned her The Duncan Banner Player of the Year Award in 2014. Johnson feels the long road she’s been on to get to this point has just been God’s plan.
“I needed it to just sit and watch, then come back and play the way I did,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to win, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Another person who helped her was coach Kenny Bare, who took over as the girls coach while remaining the boys coach as well. He said that he hasn’t seen many players that are athletically comparable to Johnson in small-school girls basketball.
“She’s a 6A athlete playing in Class A,” Bare said. “She’s so athletic, she just found ways to get to the bucket. If you didn’t foul her, she was going to score.”
Bare marveled at Johnson’s final free-throw tally, 271. To put that in perspective, he brought up the two leading scorers for the boys team, seniors Jaz Gayanich and Conner Sullivan, who combined for 220 free-throws.
“Ariah just blew that away,” Bare said.
The statistic defines what Johnson brought to the team. She called herself “a driver,” knowing she’d always find a way, often through contact, to score her points. It’s what she loved to do.
“I pushed myself when I didn’t think I could do it,” Johnson said. “I want to get to the basket and I want to score. That’s probably my favorite thing ever.”
Even with her athletic talent, Bare said Johnson never carried an attitude. He enjoyed having her in practice and on his team.
“You never had to tell her, ‘Come on Ariah. Let’s go. Work hard today,’” Bare said. “She was always there working hard, playing hard and being a leader.”