The Co-MIAA Freshman of the Year
Freshman guard Jo’Nah Johnson, No. 23, dribbles toward the basket against a Nebraska-Kearney defender on Feb.8 at Hamilton Field House. (KT King/UCO Photo Services)
In a Feb. 10 home game at Hamilton Field House, University of Central Oklahoma freshman guard Jo’Nah Johnson executed a crossover that had the crowd yelling “ankles!”. Now, Johnson crossed past defenders in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association on her way to being named Co-MIAA freshman of the year.
“I was pretty excited,” Johnson said. “I didn’t expect it, because at the beginning of the year I wasn’t playing at my full potential. But once the year started to go on, I started to get into the groove of things and found the true player that I am.”
Just a season after she earned All-State honors, as well as Super Five honors from The Oklahoman, Johnson has played in all 29 games this season, with 16 of them being starts. She averages 20.3 minutes and 8.6 points per game, both of which are the fourth highest on the team. However, Johnson said the transition was not smooth at first.
“I could do whatever I wanted to in high school,” Johnson said. ” Now, it’s run the offense and get good shots. In high school, I just went and scored every game. It’s a huge difference now.”
Not only was the offense different to Johnson, she said getting used to head coach Guy Hardaker’s coaching style was too.
“Getting used to coach Hardaker’s style of play wasn’t easy,” Johnson said. “Leaving [Edmond] Sante Fe for UCO and figuring out the style of play compared to last year in high school season is a huge difference.”
Despite all the differences, the one constant was Johnson’s expectations of herself.
“Coming into the season I expected a lot,” Johnson said. “I knew how far they got last year and I knew that I could add to that and help win championships. That’s what I expected then and that’s what I expect now.”
Johnson also credits her teammates for her quick success this season, but none may have had a bigger impact than senior guard Melinda Murillo. Johnson said the two-time All-MIAA guard helped her learn and adjust to the program and the culture.
“I’m learning the program from her,” Johnson said. “Coming in as a freshman to somebody that’s been a leader here, learning what I can do for the team this year and even next year when she leaves. She’s really been a good leader.”
In a season filled with transitions both on and off the court, Johnson said she knows just how special this honor is.
“It’s really special,” Johnson said. “It’s really, really special because I just didn’t feel like I was going to get it. All my teammates believed in me so that extra push by them helped my confidence and helped me win the honor.”