KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — When Emma Johns decided to quit playing basketball midway through her senior season at Karns City High School last winter, she figured she would never play again.
And she was OK with that.
Quite simply, Johns just wasn’t having fun. The pressure was too much.
(Pictured above, Emma Johns/submitted photo)
“I could no longer take the stress,” Johns said. “I just wanted to work on myself, so the best decision was to just leave.”
It wasn’t an easy choice.
She agonized over it before finally stepping away.
“It was super hard because I had such a deep love for the sport,” Johns said. “It was definitely hard to be like, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’ But I think, looking back, it definitely was the right decision.”
Johns had other things on her mind, too, namely making plans to pursue a degree in physical education.
Those plans took her to Butler County Community College — one of many fortuitous steps she has taken.
“Up until March of my senior year, I was looking at a couple of schools, but I wasn’t really ready to leave home yet,” Johns said. “I made the decision to go to BC3, and I was not going to play basketball. I was planning on hanging it up.”
That didn’t last long.
The Pioneers women’s basketball program was a slew of District 9 alums.
One of them, Brooke Manuel, played with Johns at Karns City.
It didn’t take Manuel long to begin recruiting Johns to join the BC3 basketball team.
“She kept nagging at me. Like, ‘Come on. You gotta go to an open gym, you gotta go to an open gym, you gotta go to an open gym,’” Johns said, chuckling. “I was finally like, ‘OK. OK.’ Then two days later, (BC3 women’s basketball coach Lydia Roth) calls me, and said, ‘I don’t know what you situation was in high school, but please consider coming to an open gym and just seeing what it’s all about. It’s just fun. No pressure. No stress. You just go play.’”
It sounded like a dream to Johns, but she was still unsure.
Finally, she decided to attend an open gym.
She knew instantly, she said, that she was in the right place.
“I went to an open gym and, oh my gosh, this is it. I’m having fun. I’m not stressed about how I’m playing, how the coaches or teammates are gonna look at me if I don’t perform well,” Johns said. “From then on I was like I have nothing to lose. I might as well give it a shot.
“BC3 has changed my total outlook on the sport,” she added. “It saved it for me.”
That has been evident on the court for Johns, who has played exceptionally well as a shooting guard/forward for the Pioneers.
Johns is second on the team in scoring behind Moniteau graduate Aslyn Pry at 15.5 points per game.
She was torrid on Monday night against Allegany College of Maryland, draining eight 3-pointers on the way to 32 points in a 73-39 win.
“It was the highest scoring game I’ve ever had,” Johns said. “I hit eight 3s, which is insane. I’ve always been more of a shooter, and that was just my strength. That’s come easy to me and I love seeing results like that. It’s my motivation. I like seeing what I can do and then doing better and better. That’s been my overall mindset on everything.
“Looking back at high school, everybody wants to be the top scorer,” she added. “But now I’m doing it for my team. There’s no individual anymore. I want to do well because these other girls deserve it.”
BC3 is doing quite well this season, off to its best start in a decade at 12-3.
As well as Johns, Manuel and Pry, Zoe Hillwig of Moniteau is a D9 product on the roster.
“It helps so much. So much,” Johns said. “We work together, on and off the court. We get along so well. We laugh together. We go out to eat after games and it’s just fun. We don’t have to put aside our differences off the court to play on the court, and I think we use that to our advantage.”
Johns has also gotten physically stronger.
She’s been dedicated to the weight room. Once rail thin — and very aware of that fact — she has bulked up for the rigors of basketball at the next level.
“Another thing I wanted to do was, well, if I’m gonna play at the college level, I gotta look like I play at the college level,” Johns said, laughing. “I got a membership (to a local gym) and I’d spend hours there. Wow, it’s been amazing. I saw crazy, incredible results.”
Johns is also eating better to add weight to her frame. She said she feels better and stronger than she ever has.
“The key was lifting heavy,” she said, pausing to let out a chuckle, “and eating more than my 15-year-old brother.”
So much so, Johns has played a few games at forward.
“It was a whole new realm,” she said, laughing again.
“I remember the first game, this is funny, I set a screen and the girl hit me and fell down and they called a foul,” Johns said. “I’m not used to the strength that I have. I still think I’m the small girl. They called a moving screen. I wasn’t moving. I was planted. It’s a totally different gameplay for me.”
Johns plans on enjoying her two years at BC3 before moving on to Slippery Rock University to finish out her physical education degree.
As far as basketball goes, Johns said she is unsure if she will try to play beyond her years with the Pioneers.
She’s just happy she managed to find her way back to the sport, even if the journey took a few sharp turns.
“I was gonna hang it up,” Johns said. “It’s crazy. I’m just so glad I had the opportunity to continue and to be a part of something just totally and absolutely fun. There’s no other word for it. It’s just fun.”