For her entire basketball career, Maliyah Johnson was a natural post player, with her back to the basket, but upon arriving as a member of the Pitt Women’s Basketball Team, coach Lance White had other ideas.
In order for Johnson to find success with the program, it would come from a guard position.
“I just feel like it was a very big adjustment, but as time went on and practices where I could be on the wing playing guard, I feel I adjusted very well to it,” she said.
Indeed, Johnson ranks second for Pitt with 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, starting all three contests thus far in the season.
Johnson also has doubled her minutes from a season ago, now averaging 25 and enters Saturday’s City Game achieving a career-high 20 points in Wednesday’s victory over Bryant.
“She’s such a great athlete and has great length and power,” said White. “I keep telling her that as soon as she takes that next jump in confidence, the sky is the limit for her. We moved her from a post to a guard last year, so at times she gets a little hesitant and then there are moments where she attacked the rim and all of those big-time plays. As soon as she puts it together, she has a chance to be a really good player. On both ends of the ball and her ability to rebound changes you against ACC-type teams.”
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Last season, Johnson had to learn from her more experienced teammates in terms of making the adjustment from high school and the move away from playing in the post came to several options inside and trying to get the most possible playing time.
“I had to get used to being on the wing,” Johnson explained. “There was no exception and I had to get it down pat. This year I have a role, I have to play my role and produce every game. That motivated me to do more for my team, knowing that I am in a position to do something with it.”
It was that change in mindset which has served Johnson well from when she first committed to Pitt, doing so because of a love for both atmosphere and coaches.
Johnson also fell in love with her soon-to-be teammates, appreciating how genuine everyone was with her.
The trust both teammates and coaching staff have in her to be both a starter and force is one she does not take lightly.
“It’s kind of a joy knowing they trust me to be in the five and be out here on the floor first to start the tempo, said Johnson. “It’s a motivating thing for me. I’m only a sophomore and I have so much time to go and so much learning to do. To be in this position now and get the feel for it, just boosts me up even more to know that I have so much time left, just imagine what I can do from here.”
When it comes to what has driven Johnson, the answer is a consistent one. Family.
Her father Marcus was a two-sport athlete, while her mother Kendra had a basketball scholarship at Louisville.
Between her brothers Marcus and Mekhi, both also compete in sports, clearly a sign that it runs in the Johnson family.
Johnson also credits her toughness to her family and thanks her father for instilling mental toughness within the family and after any game, he always has a motivational speech ready.
“Everything that I do is for my family, when it comes to anything, she concluded. “If this doesn’t work out for me, then I feel like I’ve failed my family. They motivate me and push me to have that drive to wake up every day at 9 a.m. go to class and everything.”