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Basketball

East Allegheny's Johnson surpasses milestone, sets sights on section title

| Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, 5:27 p.m.
East Allegheny's Amani Johnson
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East Allegheny's Amani Johnson

Amani Johnson, a highly touted 5-foot-5 junior point guard at East Allegheny, already has achieved her new year's resolution.

Johnson poured in a career-high 41 points to lead the Wildcats to a 75-28 section win last week at South Side Beaver.

In the process, Johnson, who was lauded as the Tribune-Review preseason player of the year in Class 3A, eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone in career scoring.

“To reach 1,000 points is a major accomplishment that not everyone does,” Johnson said. “I honestly didn't think that much about reaching it until coach told me I was close, then I was like I have to get there before the new year.

“So, I just worked really hard and now here I am, 1,000 points into my high school career.”

Johnson has lived up to her hype, leading East Allegheny to a brilliant start and a No. 3 ranking in Class 3A by the Tribune-Review.

Johnson and the Wildcats have proven to be unstoppable in the first month of the season, chalking up a 7-0 record.

And they have done so in a most-impressive fashion; not one game has been close.

EA won twice in the Serra Catholic tip-off tournament, defeating Allderdice, 56-38, and Propel Academy, 72-13; then ran past McKeesport, 51-38, Brownsville, 64-46, St. Joseph, 73-28, and South Side Beaver, 75-28. Wednesday, she scored 26 in a 63-26 win over Riverview at the East Allegheny tournament.

“It has been a goal for us to win the section since last year, when we made playoffs for the first time in 16 years or something like that, and lost in the first round,” Johnson said. “That was not what we wanted at all.

“We want a 2017 on the banner in the gym that says section champs. Every day looking at the banner, and seeing the last time we won the section was 2000, just motivates us, and me especially, to make it happen because this year is something special for us, and I know it's possible.”

Johnson, a four-sport standout with a 4.0 GPA who averaged 15.5 and 21.5 points the past two seasons, is scoring at a 33.2 clip this season.

She is a member of the National Honors Society, Class Cabinet, Student Council and The Future is Mine.

“I've actually coached her since she was in the seventh grade. She's a joy to watch,” EA coach Mike Osiecki said. “It's not just because she's a great athlete; she's a great person to be around. She's a polite kid, very respectful, and very humble.

“There are a lot of good players who show up just for the season; not Amani. She works 12 months a year. She just works hard. Every year, you tell her what to work on, and she does it.”

Johnson participates in AAU basketball in the offseason, and was a member of the Western PA Bruins-Cash team that reeled in a national championship in 2016.

“The AAU season was great,” Johnson said. “This year was the best team I've ever been on. It was amazing to travel the country with them, playing against the other top girls in the country. It was even better because we were winning a lot, too.

“Our last tournament we spent a week in Atlanta, Ga., and didn't lose a game. We won the Brandon Clay Peach State Basketball tourney, and we won the Adidas Nationals. This AAU season I learned a lot about what the next level is like because AAU at that level and high school (basketball) is like night and day. I had to really adjust my game and get better to be able to produce at that level, and I feel like that reflects now in my game back with my team in high school.”

The 17-year-old Johnson competes in four sports at EA — as a center-midfielder in soccer, outside hitter in volleyball, point guard in basketball and shortstop in softball.

“She's been all-section in every sport,” Osiecki said.

Johnson has been complemented this season by 5-10 senior forward Cache Street, the team's second-leading scorer and top rebounder.

Street pulled down 24 rebounds and scored 12 points in EA's section opener against Brownsville, then grabbed 15 rebounds against St. Joseph in the next game.

Street has a chance to eclipse 1,000 career rebounds this season.

“Cache's matured a lot the last two years. She's actually grown into being one of the more vocal people on the team,” Osiecki said. “She's so athletic. I haven't seen a girl who can rebound with her. She's not a super scorer, but she's accepted her role. She cleans up (the boards) for us.”

Johnson and Street are joined in the starting lineup by Amaia Johnson, a 5-8 freshman forward and Amani's younger sister; C'Keiyah Marshall, a 5-9 freshman forward and Street's younger sister; and Myla Bortoluzzi, a 5-5 junior guard.

Two other junior team members are Marisa Smith, a 5-3 guard, and Makiyah Clowney is a 5-6 guard. Smith is out of the lineup with an injury.

“It's a special season for us,” said Johnson, who has 1,029 career points. “I'm playing with my two friends, Myla and Marisa, who I've been playing with since fourth grade, and my younger sister. Also, our only senior, Cache, has the company of her younger sister playing with her. We're doing big things this year, and we're coming for the section title.”

There are no sophomores listed on the Wildcats' roster. Along with Amaia Johnson and Marshall, freshman players consist of guards Anna Biertemfel and Myairah Carter, guard/forwards Ariel Hall and Linda Lattimer, and forward Makala Ruffin.

East Allegheny, which hasn't won a section title in girls basketball since 2000, is 2-0 in section play thanks to wins over Brownsville and South Side Beaver.

Over the past three years, the Wildcats have gone from a three-win season in 2013-14, to a 12-9 record in 2014-15, to a 14-9 mark and WPIAL playoff appearance in 2015-16.

“From Day 1, our goal has been to win the section. If you win the section, you must be doing something good,” Osiecki said. “We have something going here. Winning the section would be great. Each year, we've taken a step (toward that).”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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