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McKeesport’s Johnasia Cash Forging Her Own Path at Penn State



Johnasia Cash -- Penn State Athletics
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Johnasia Cash has a last name that is synonymous with women’s basketball in the Pittsburgh area. Her cousin, Swin, is perhaps the most successful player to come from the area due to her career at UConn and decade-and-a-half-long career in the WNBA. 

While Swin’s accomplishments on the court cannot be denied, perhaps her greatest accomplishment is how she has given back to the McKeesport area. Her efforts to provide residents of the area with a way to play basketball and find an escape is something that Johnasia fondly remembers. 

“I’ll never forget the moment she came back and cut the ribbon over the Harrison Village Recreation Center with her name on it,” Johnasia Cash said. “She came back and got outside basketball courts. She didn’t have to come back and do none of this for us, but she wants to give us opportunities to play basketball and to do great at it.”

Unlike her cousin, Johnasia Cash wanted no part in playing basketball when she was growing up. Her visions were locked on playing softball, but her mother, another former basketball player, kept diverting her attention to basketball by not signing her up for softball. 

Cash continued to play basketball, but didn’t take it all that seriously until her cousin Swin extended the offer for her to take part in the Cash for the Kids Basketball League in middle school. The league was predominantly male, but that didn’t deter her from making a go at it. 

“I played the most on our team, and I was playing against all boys,” said Cash. “I felt like it made me stronger. I got better and I could see myself getting better. Swin was telling me certain things, she was motivating me, and I felt like I was soaking it all in like a sponge.” 

Being one of the few girls at the camp and walking away with the league’s MVP award caused Cash’s thoughts on basketball to change. The sport she once played just to appease her mom was now becoming a sport that she had found confidence in, while also receiving support from role models in her life. 

“Going into ninth grade, I felt confident having Swin and my mom right behind me, motivating me, pushing basketball on to me,” Cash said. “Just encouraging me to do well and to do certain things, and to get better and never stop getting better and never stop grinding. Going into ninth grade, I had that mentality and I ended up starting. From that point on, basketball just became a part of my life.”

Relationships with her coaches and teammates at McKeesport built an even stronger foundation for her confidence. The energy and dedication that Cash brought to even the most fundamental team activities helped her earn respect from the start of her transition to the high school level.

“I built a lot of respect with my teammates by showing up every single day and giving my 110% every single day,” said Cash. “Even during conditioning when we are running on the track, I’m trying to be first. I’m a post player and I’m out there, I’m running, I’m first. I’ve gotta show my team I’m willing to work for this and I want to win.”

Winning was also an opportunity that comes with playing with the AAU Bruins. Utilizing the same work ethic that she brought to McKeesport, Cash was able to bond and continue developing while playing with the Bruins. 

“We wanted to show out for our schools, but, at the same time, we wanted to show that we could come together and we can win,” she said. “We didn’t know each other from a can of paint, but we got to know each other on the road, we got to know each other in the games. Being competitive with them girls gave me that mindset, like the only thing changes is the setting and the people you play with. Your role doesn’t change, when you go down that floor, you know what you’ve got to do to win.”

No amount of on-court success could change the fact that Cash dealt with some difficult circumstances that come with being in a high school environment. Negative moments and people impacted her life in a way that made her want to go out of state to play collegiate basketball in an effort to ink a new chapter in her life and put the troubles she dealt with behind her. 

“I wanted to escape my life here in McKeesport,” Cash said. “It was hard growing up here in a poor community. I was also bullied a lot throughout high school, so it was tough for me, I just wanted to get away and start over.”

There were also struggles that came with being related to someone that is as influential to the area as Swin Cash. Though she was a significant figure while Johnasia was growing up, there was a sense of needing to attend school where Swin’s name wouldn’t be mentioned hand-in-hand whenever she showcased her own talents. 

“I wanted to create a name for myself outside of Swin Cash, being that she was so big in Pittsburgh already. I just wanted to get out and be like, I’m the first Johnasia Cash, I’m me, I’m different. She’s her and I’m me, we’re different people. She’s special in her own ways and I’m special in mine.”

Johnasia showed how special her efforts on the court were by quickly moving up the ladder at Southern Methodist University. Cash started 27 games in her first two seasons with the team, showing off her defensive prowess and rebounding ability along the way. By her junior season, Cash nearly averaged a double-double with her 11.1 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. 

When cash decided that it was time to transfer, two schools stood out due to her AAU ties: UMass and Penn State. 

Makenna Marisa, a sophomore guard at Penn State, and Desiree Oliver, a guard at UMass, each served as a major reason for Cash to choose their respective school. Ultimately, Cash sided with Marisa and PSU since she had found success and won championships with Oliver before. Her new goal was to help Marisa and Penn State get the program back on its feet. 

“I love being a part of a rebuild,” Cash said. “I love being a part of what they’ve got going on. Our motto is ‘let’s try to go worst to first’. We know it’s going to take some time and it’s going to take a lot of heart, teamwork, competitiveness and max effort, but everyone is bodying and everyone is willing to do so.”

The 412 connection might have served as a bonus for Cash, but so did the welcoming feeling that the coaches provided her. She credits head coach Carolyn Kieger for allowing her to personify what it means to be a student athlete. Success in the classroom and on the court are important to Cash, who feels that Kieger pushes for her players to be the best in both realms. 

This season, Cash has certainly discovered success when it comes to her performance. She, again, is just shy of averaging a double-double by scoring 14.6 points per game and pulling down 9.1 boards per contest. On Feb. 8, Cash’s dedication was recognized with a Big Ten Player of the Week award. To her, those sorts of recognitions may taste sweet, but team success tastes even better. 

“One thing I try to do is not believe the hype. I am very appreciative of receiving the award, but I am not satisfied with where I am right now. I want to get better and grow.”


Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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