Originally created 04/14/02

Johnson reaches new heights



When Barnwell's Melanie Johnson grew from a height of 5-foot-10 to 6-2 over a five month period last year, it was more than just a physical adjustment.

It was more than having to buy a new wardrobe. For the Lady Warhorse junior, it was a whole new way of life.

She had the shooting guard mentality, but suddenly, she was stuck in a center's body.

Count mysterious body genetics, then, as perhaps Johnson's greatest advantage on the court, because she certainly exploited those genes this year.

Johnson averaged 24.2 points, 11 rebounds and 4.4 blocks for the Lady Warhorses this season, good enough to be named The Augusta Chronicle South Carolina All-Area Girls Player of the Year.

She's finally found jeans that fit, and in the process, she's pieced together her game as well.

"Last year at the beginning of the season, I started out slow," said Johnson, whose dramatic growth spurt began in June of 2000 and ended in October. "But once I got used to my height and weight, I started to develop. My height and me being able to play at guard, that's what makes me stand out.

"Whenever anybody at school asks me what position I play, I tell them I'm a guard. They say, 'Aww, you're lying.' It's hard for a post player to guard me, because I'm usually faster than them. And it's hard for a guard to guard me, because I'm bigger than them."

But Johnson doesn't lumber around in the paint, waiting for the ball and the opportunity to post up her opponent. Instead she's the Lady Warhorse bringing the ball up the court.

"My starting point guard was only 5-4, so against teams that pressed a lot, Melanie brought the ball up," said Barnwell coach Carol Massengale, whose team was knocked out of the Class AA state semifinals by eventual state champ Lee Central. "When they press her (behind the time line), she's tall enough to see over the top of them to get by the press. When she gets to the top of the key, she can look to penetrate and drive, or she can play low and go into the red (paint)."

It wasn't always this way for Johnson.

"From her freshman year to her sophomore year, you could tell she was just a little bit awkward," Massengale said. "You could really see it when she tried to dribble with her left hand. It just looked like it didn't feel comfortable. Usually when you're 6-2 or 6-3, you don't have to handle the ball a lot. She can now, and that's made a big difference to her."

It's also helped begin the journey to a potential Division I college scholarship.

Johnson said she's interested in the University of South Carolina, and Massengale said Tennessee-Chattanooga has been in contact.

And AAU ball with the Georgia-Lina Lady 76ers this summer - Johnson was in Virginia at the Boo Williams Invitational last weekend - will help keep her sharp before she tries to lead Barnwell back to the postseason next year.

What makes her most dangerous at this point, however, is her new-found confidence. Now, she said, she thinks she can play with anybody. Now, she's comfortable with her body.

"I'm looking to average about 30 points (per game) next year," Johnson said. "AAU has really given me some good exposure and has been a confidence boost. Most of the girls I play with are nationally ranked, and they let me see where I am."

So, where exactly is she?

"I'm pretty good, I guess," Johnson said. "I'm better than I thought I was."