NORTH HAVEN >> North Haven junior guard Jill Johnson has gone from being a role player to one of the better scorers in the Southern Connecticut Conference. The guard is fifth in the area in scoring and poured in a school record 40 points in a recent loss to Hand.
“I was so happy I couldn’t believe it afterwards that I scored 40,” Johnson said. “ I never heard of that happening (here). I was proud of myself. After all of the hard work I put in the summer and before the season it really paid off.”
Johnson is currently averaging 21 points per game. The North Haven guard had to rehab during the offseason after tearing two ligaments in her ankle and also bruising the bone. She said it did not require surgery, but rehab wasn’t easy.
“It was a lot of work trying to gain back strength,” Johnson said. “I love my physical therapist. I go to her a lot.”
After a summer of AAU, followed up with fall league basketball, Indians’ coach Chris Barry said Johnson returned a different player.
“She’s really improved everywhere, passing, dribbling, shooting,” the coach said. “There’s not really one spot where I can say she improved just there.”
Johnson said her focus was on her perimeter shooting this summer. She said she was a dribble penetration player in previous seasons but needed to expand on her overall game. However, she did not abandon the dribble drive.
“I’ve worked a lot with my crossover to help me get to the basket,” Johnson said. “I think all the hard work I’ve put in is making a difference.”
All the work she put in during the offseason also heightened her basketball IQ, according to Barry. The coach said she usually has the ball in her hands and most often she makes the right decision.
The junior said her teammates have also helped her out, so when she makes the right pass, they deliver. Her coach agreed.
“A lot of games teams will focus on Jill because she’s had the scoring games,” he said. “And what Jill I think realizes is when to shoot and when to kick it out. When there’s dump downs open in the post.”
That culminated in her 40-point, four 3-pointer onslaught in a 61-50 loss to Hand. Despite the loss, Johnson was in the zone, making the right plays, draining long-distance shots and getting to the basket.
“There were a couple of plays that we ran specifically for her, especially once she started to get hot,” Barry said.
And Johnson’s strong play has rubbed off on her teammates. The Indians lost both games where Johnson went off, but the team has won two straight, is 3-2 and the rest of the Indians are starting to score, too.
“She’s a kid that leads by example,” Barry said. “People will follow her. We have a lot of great leaders on this team, and she’s one of them.”
Scouting Jill Johnson
Johnson has quickly emerged as one of the area’s best scorers. She spoke about some of the things different teams have done to try and stop her and what she does to counter it.
Johnson vs. a soft man-to-man >> Hand played a soft man-to-man defense against her in her 40-point performance. She said she took what the defense gave her.
“They gave me that step, and I was able to get by them and score 40.”
Barry, who said Johnson typically has the ball a lot, actually got some off-the-ball plays called for her due to the defense sagging off. Johnson’s reputation as a drive first ask questions later player may have been the reason the Tigers’ protected the paint and didn’t play up on her. Johnson was able to get to the basket, and still hit outside shots.
“She created a lot on her own,” Barry said.
Johnson vs. zone >> Johnson said North Haven has seen both zone and man-to-man defenses this season. Against a zone, her basketball IQ comes into play. The junior said she tries to be patient to create better scoring opportunities for her teammates.
“If a team is playing off me I’ll take the shot,” Johnson said. “But if I know my shot is off, I’ll pass (the ball) around and look for my options once I pass it.”
Foran played zone for three quarters of Johnson’s 27-point game this season. In the fourth quarter, the Lions switched to man and put All-Area point guard Teneya McLaughlin on Johnson. The junior said teams have not made many adjustments thus far, but she anticipates more alterations like the Foran one this season.
“I think things will change once we play teams like East Haven, Hamden and Guilford,” she said
Contact Henry Chisholm at email@example.com. Follow Henry on Twitter @nhrHenryC.