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Amaia Johnson steps in to lead East Allegheny girls basketball

Shawn Annarelli
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Bishop Canevin’s Diajha Allen defends on East Allegheny’s Amaia Johnson during a fast break in the 3-A girls WPIAL basketball final Saturday, March 3, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.

Everyone at East Allegheny girls basketball games watches to see what junior Amaia Johnson will do next.

She is 101 points away from scoring 1,000 in her career, and the team is a win shy of clinching a playoff berth. With a difficult schedule to end the regular season, it’s hard to predict what will occur first.

The pressure on Johnson to lead East Allegheny’s girls basketball team extends beyond transitioning to point guard this season and scoring nearly half of the team’s 52 points per game.

Everything she does is the sequel to what her older sister, Amani Johnson, accomplished.

“Amaia probably feels a lot of eyes on her this year,” coach Mike Osiecki said. “She doesn’t want to let anyone down.”

Amani Johnson, who Amaia called a “natural born leader,” engraved a legacy of winning on a program that routinely lost before her arrival.

“I think Amani made a bigger impact than me,” Amaia Johnson said. “Before her, East Allegheny athletics was kind of low, and she brought it up. I want to keep it up and make a name for myself.”

To compare the sisters is natural.

Amani Johnson could dominate games with her speed, craftiness and jump shot from the time she was a freshman. Amaia Johnson also can take over any game, but with her size, strength and fearless drive to the hoop.

To separate their success isn’t necessarily fair.

East Allegheny was 51-4 and nearly won a WPIAL championship in the two seasons the Johnson sisters played together. The program was 26-18 in two seasons with only Amani Johnson and 12-5 with just Amaia.

Still, they can’t escape evaluations of how they stack up to each other.

“At first, I was annoyed that we were always compared, because it’s not always fun being someone’s little sister,” Amaia Johnson said. “A lot of people would just refer to me as Amani’s little sister and they wouldn’t say my name at all. I definitely learned to accept that, but I also understand and appreciate that it’s given me more opportunities partly just because I am her little sister.”

The two might not be the same players without each other, because they pushed each other to improve.

The sibling rivalry taught Amaia Johnson an important lesson.

“I learned that you really can’t give up,” Amaia Johnson said. “Growing up she was just always stronger and better than me, because she was a few years older and had more experience. She never let me give up either. She always wanted me to do better.”

Amaia Johnson has room to grow, much like Amani did at this stage of her career.

She wants to improve her dribbling. Osiecki wants her to continue to mature as a leader. They each want to win more.

To have the same kind of success Amani Johnson had as a leader, Amaia will also need a strong supporting cast.

East Allegheny (12-5, 7-4 Section 3-3A) has won five of its last six games since the midpoint of the season, which is when Amaia Johnson felt comfortable in her new position by more readily identifying opportunities to dish the ball to strong shooters like Abby Henderson, who Amaia said is like another sister.

“Once or twice a week we have a sit down and talk about things we want to happen,” Osiecki said. “We recently played Valley. That isn’t one of the better teams, and I told Amaia she’d get her points, but let’s get some of our younger girls who haven’t seen much time some chances. She did her damndest to get them the ball.”

With the team starting to click, Amaia Johnson passed up points to keep everyone involved with the hopes the stronger everyone else is the further East Allegheny can go in the postseason.

“I’m confident we can do well when it comes to the playoffs,” Amaia Johnson said. “Making it to the championship last year was the highlight of my life. It brings the whole community together, because it’s pretty small. Things like that and everyone on the team doing well are more important than 1,000 points.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.