Athlete of Week: Johnson doing it all for Lady Chiefs

nmbghoops-44aowIf you want to know what North Myrtle Beach senior Aquera Johnson brings to the table for the Lady Chiefs, you’d better have a big table. Scorer, rebounder, defender, leader – the list goes on and on. Ironically, it’s her do-it-all mentality that is the strength of her game.

“That is my role – to do whatever my team needs me to do,” said Johnson, who leads the Lady Chiefs into the first round of the Class 4A playoffs on Tuesday. “I’m a team leader, so I have to have that type of attitude. These girls look up to me, so I have to show them by example.”

Johnson even added the role of coach to her resume earlier this season. While North Myrtle Beach coach Jude Hunt has often entered the locker room at halftime only to discover that Johnson had already done his job of making adjustments and rallying the team, she took it to the next level in the only game she missed during her four-year varsity career.

“She had been sick leading in to our game at Loris this season. She came to the game and sat on the bench as another assistant coach, cheering the girls and offering tips to our younger players the entire time,” Hunt said. “She is listed as a forward on our roster, but she is capable of playing any position that we need her, including coach. She would do anything that her team would need of her.”

Johnson was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week, but it might as well be a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the program. In her 97 career games, she has averaged a double-double of 13.5 points and 11.6 rebounds per outing, as well as more than three steals. She has posted 66 double-doubles over the course her career (that’s 68 percent of her games).

Johnson also puts up big numbers in ways that can’t be measured in stats, like the fact that she gives 100 percent 100 percent of the time. Hunt has been coaching for 21 years, including 10 seasons as boys coach, and he calls Johnson “the toughest kid that I have ever coached,” adding “that is not anywhere near a slam on any of the hundreds of other players; it is just a statement about her and how hard she gets after it on the floor.”

Despite the success of Johnson and her team, the Lady Chiefs enter the playoffs as a No. 3 seed and must travel to Orangeburg-Wilkinson for their playoff opener. That’s because North Myrtle Beach happens to play in the same region as two of the top teams in the state – Myrtle Beach and Wilson – which NMB upset last week on the road. It’s that tough schedule that has Johnson believing her team can make a run in the playoffs.

“We might be a third seed, but we’re a very good third seed,” Johnson said. “Playing against all those good teams in the season and the Shootout by the Sea tournament have made us better and we have to go out and show what we can do. We feed off each others energy, so if we can all get pumped up and play our best we can go a long way.”

Johnson gets a bit reflective when reminded that every game she plays from here on out could be her last. “Bittersweet” was the only word she could find to describe it. Although she is currently weighing her option for college and plans to major in nursing while continuing her basketball career, Johnson still has unfinished business before hanging up her Lady Chiefs jersey.

“She truly has become an extension of the coaching staff on the floor, which has come both from the extensive time she has spent with me over the years as well as her passion and desire to be the best that she can,” Hunt said. “We’re definitely going to miss her next season, but she is doing everything that she can now to pass on a legacy to the younger players that are on our team now.”

Photo by Louis E. Keiner

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