For Lee’s Summit North’s girls basketball team, the ideal option on offense many times the past three or four seasons has been to get the ball to Imani Johnson in paint or the post.
This season, having Johnson shoot an outside jumper or even bring the ball up court aren’t bad choices, either.
The offensive versatility that the 6-foot senior forward developed not only helped her become the school’s all-time leading scorer this season, but it also has helped Broncos advance to Thursday’s Class 5 final four. North (23-5) plays Eureka in Thursday’s state semifinals at 3:30 p.m. at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“Her perimeter game has improved the most,” North coach Tricia Lillygren said of the Southeast Missouri recruit. “As a freshman and sophomore, she was a little-jumper, back-to-the basket post, mainly. She can shoot the 3 now, and I don’t have a problem with it if it’s the right shot.”
“Also, defending on the perimeter. That’s big, because she’ll probably play there more in college.”
In Saturday’s state quarterfinal win against North Kansas City, as North tried to maintain a slim lead in the closing minutes after senior point guard Erica Nelson fouled out, it turned to Johnson to handle the ball against the pressure defense.
“It’s really opened us up some,” Lillygren said of Johnson’s versatility. “We can go three with big people on the floor. We can go smaller or bigger if we want.”
Johnson possesses a confident stroke on long jumpers, hitting 10 of 18 of 3-pointers this season. Combined with her solid free throw shooting (team-best 77 percent) and her strength in the post, she’s averaging 17.6 points this season. Through her four-year career she’s totaled 1,647 points, topping the former record of 1,520 held by Claire Coggins.
Johnson also leads the team in rebounds (6.7 per game) and blocks (35 total) and is second in steals (29).
“She’s always been a consistent scorer,” said fellow senior forward Jaden Powell, who has played alongside Johnson since junior high. “Looking at her growing up, she’s improved on the perimeter. She can score from the anywhere.”
Johnson said the biggest improvements she’s realized from the Broncos and herself over the years come from the mental side of the game.
“Our compatibility and our willingness to battle adversity,” she said. “(I’m better at) keeping myself motivated, and playing as hard as I can for as long as I can.”
Now, to finish her prep career, she gets a trip to Columbia with longtime teammates Powell and Nelson – “We’re the originals, me, her and Erica,” Powell said – and freshman sister Aaliyah, who also is a 6-foot forward and has made giant contributions off the bench this season.
“She’s definitely made a difference in the postseason,” Imani said of Aaliyah.
“I think Aaliyah can be a very good player, as she grows and gets more accustomed to what she can do with her body,” Lillygren said. “She came in with the same skills as Imani had. When she develops the strength like Imani has, she’ll be better.”