By Tom Robinson
Nya Johnson and Lindsey Welsh brought similar credentials to the JB Hoops National girls team.
Both Johnson at West Scranton and Welsh at Old Forge had been multi-year starters and team scoring leaders. Each had teamed with one sidekick to handle the large majority of the offensive responsibilities on contending high school teams.
Each also made a decision to join a group of AAU players, many of whom had already worked together for years, in time for one season between their junior and senior years of high school.
Coach John Bucci sees even more significant similarities on the two new additions to a team that has ripped through its live event schedule with a 21-1 record to produce three first-place and one second-place finish.
“Both of them bring a certain amount of toughness that we lacked,” Bucci said.
As the offensive emphasis goes through constant evolution according to the hot hand and the opponent, Johnson and Welsh have gotten some opportunities to show off the skills that have allowed them to pile up points during their high school careers.
More often, they have shown the willingness to blend into a skilled team and contribute in a variety of areas. They have helped make a strong team, coming off a successful 2018, even stronger.
“What these two brought to this team as far as toughness, as far as kids liking them, as far as being personable; whatever we lost, we gained tenfold,” Bucci said.
Johnson admits some uncertainty about how a team of high school all-stars, used to battling each other and always being in spotlight roles, could become a unit.
“I developed so many more skills and that’s really necessary,” Johnson said, pointing out the difference in being surrounded on the floor entirely by players of similar ability.
While she was boosting her own game, Johnson found new ways to support teammates – and new ways for teammates to help bring out the best in her.
“I kind of expected that it was not going to work well, that we were going to clash, but we wound up working really well as a team,” she said. “We pushed through everything.
“We all look out for one another. … We all make sure we do what we need to do and we look for each other on the court.”
Welsh has become one of the leaders in a strong group of rebounders in the JB Hoops backcourt.
“I think my role is kind of switched,” she said. “Playing with some of the best girls in the area, you have to kind of assimilate to what you have on the floor. So, if I have to go in and get a board, I will.”
And, frequently sharing the scoring responsibilities with more than one other high-scoring teammate has been a new way to approach the game.
“It’s really great,” said Welsh, who teams with Olivia Ciullo at Old Forge and has led the Lady Devils in scoring in each of her three high school seasons. “I feel like I can depend on my teammates to make shots and get the ball swinging. It’s a faster pace and I really enjoy playing with that.”
Although they may be scoring less while helping the JB Hoops teams win on the AAU level, each is using the high-level of competition and the practices that go with it to try to become even more dangerous when it comes time to score.
They are doing so throughout opposite approaches.
“I’m really just trying to create my own shots off the dribble, off screens,” Welsh said. “I’m trying to create more space for myself to get off shots.”
Getting off the shots comes easier to Johnson.
“My strongest part is going to the basket and penetrating to create for other girls on the team,” said Johnson, who rotates freely between any of the guard and forward positions. “My weakest is shooting. I’m not that good of a shooter, but I’m working on it.”
MORE TO COME: The JB Hoops Bucci team, which went 6-0 to win the Prague Division at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago last week, is in Oxon Hill, Md. for the USJN 17U Nationals beginning Saturday. The JB Hoops Rose team is entered as well. Watch the JB Hoops Blog for coverage of both teams throughout the event.