It's a rarity to see a two-year varsity basketball player at the middle school level. Brianna Johnson, 14, was the starting shooting guard for this season's Hernando County Middle School Athletic Conference champions. Fox Chapel Middle, coached by Dave Schlechter, won the title with a 12-0 record, and Johnson led the program in scoring with more than 16 points per game. The eighth-grader is a native of Danielle, Ind., and began playing basketball at an early age, not unlike most other young hoopsters, growing up with a desire to be a Hoosier. She remembers playing ball with her uncle before she moved to Spring Hill six years ago. She translated those early experiences and an innate love of the game into competing in organized basketball in sixth grade.
Last season, as a seventh-grader, she was the youngest player on the Tigers varsity squad. That team finished just over .500 and in the middle of the pack in the Hernando County final standings. While Johnson is the first to admit she was a wide-eyed, less-experienced version of her current self, she believes there was no chemistry among her teammates.
"We didn't really get along (last season)," Johnson said, "and it affected the way we all played on the court."
There were no such problems this season, and that was obvious from the start. While Johnson was their best scorer with a solid talent for shooting the ball, the additions of point guard Marissa Welch and center Lauren Grimsland made a big difference in chemistry.
Welch was in her first season playing organized basketball, but Schlechter said her contributions were important because of her natural athletic ability. She and Johnson were the standout leaders on the court during fast breaks.
As the season wore on, teams began to double-team Johnson, who had taken control of the offense, and the Tigers leader had to learn how to handle the pressure. Schlechter worked with her on passing out of the double teams, and the main beneficiary of these passes was Grimsland.
"Whether it was a bounce pass or a well-timed loft around the basket, Brianna and Lauren seemed to always know where the other one was going to be (when the double team came)," Schlechter said. "That was a part of Brianna's game that really improved over the course of the season."
It will come as no surprise when Johnson impresses in high school next season. The best middle school player from last season, former Powell forward Mariah Byrd, is already starring for Nature Coast Technical High. Johnson aims to follow next season with the Sharks.
While she also enjoys playing competitive soccer for the Hernando Heat, Johnson has already decided to focus on basketball in high school. Since soccer and hoops both occur at the same time at the prep level, it was an important decision for the talented scorer.
If there is one thing she feels needs to improve at the next level, Johnson believes it's her dribbling. Seen as a hard worker by both her teammates and coaches, she improved her shooting, defense and passing in middle school. There is no reason to think this hurdle will be any different before it's all said and done.
"Once I get on the court, I just feel so happy to be contributing to the team," Johnson said. "That is a feeling I don't want to lose."
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