The postseason banquet after Raven Johnson's
freshman season was a celebration of a state championship for Westlake (Atlanta)
. As part of the festivities, a representative from the company that was going to make the championship rings was there to measure everyone for their new jewelry.
"What finger do you want your ring on?" he asked. "You might win another one, so choose carefully."
Johnson, the young point guard who had to be coaxed to say much during the season, held up her hand.
"She was dead serious," Westlake coach Hilda Hankerson said. "There was no smile."
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Johnson said. "I held up all four fingers and said, 'You might as well get the other three sizes too because I'm going to win four state titles.'"
Which, of course, she and Westlake did. The Lions won AAAAAAA titles in 2018, 2019 and 2020, then a AAAAAA title this season, which they parlayed into a GEICO Nationals victory and a MaxPreps National Championship.
Johnson is the 2020-21 MaxPreps National Player of the Year after averaging 15.1 points, 5.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game while leading Westlake to a 22-0 mark.
"I wouldn't call that cocky," said Johnson, who's headed to South Carolina. "I'd call that confident."
And Johnson credits that confidence for much of her success. "If you have confidence, it will carry you a long way," she said.
It didn't take long for Hankerson to recognize that Johnson was going to carry Westlake a long way. She first saw her at the local middle school which feeds Westlake.
"She was head and shoulders above the others," said the coach. "She really stood out."
And Hankerson, who's been running the show at Westlake for 26 years and played Division I basketball at Mercer, knew exactly what she was looking at.
"Raven was my point guard from Day One," she said. "The summer before she started ninth grade, I called my senior point guard over and said ‘You're getting ready to be my two guard.' "
And though Johnson obviously had the skills and the confidence, she also understood that basketball is a team game.
"As players get older, they sometimes get cliquish," Hankerson said. "The seniors just sit with the seniors, or the starters are always together. But Raven probably sat with more people than anyone I've ever coached, no matter how good they were."
At the same time, though, Johnson is ferociously competitive. She's always played with boys because "they challenge me every day. I like to compete," she said, and then pauses. "But most of all, I like to win."
She hopes to keep on winning playing for the Gamecocks and coach Dawn Staley, who's one of the greatest point guards in women's basketball history.
"She showed me videos of her playing, and I was like ‘Wow,' " said Johnson, who also knows Staley is a taskmaster.
That's OK with Johnson. "I don't like a coach who would kiss my butt. When you're screaming at me, I like that."
Of course, there's one thing she likes better.
"I like to win," she said, adding her goal at South Carolina is simple. "I just want to win a national championship."
And get another ring.
Past MaxPreps National Players of the Year
2020 — Paige Bueckers, Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.)
2019 — Azzi Fudd, St. John's (Washington, D.C.)
2018 — Christyn Williams, Central Arkansas Christian (North Little Rock, Ark.)
2017 — Megan Walker, Monacan (Richmond, Va.)
2016 — Sabrina Ionescu, Miramonte (Orinda, Calif.)
2015 — Ali Patberg, Columbus North (Columbus, Ind.)
2014 — A'ja Wilson, Heathwood Hall Episcopal (Columbia, S.C.)
2013 — Diamond DeShields, Norcross (Ga.)
2012 — Breanna Stewart, Cicero-North Syracuse (Cicero, N.Y.)
2011 — Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
2010 — Chiney Ogwumike, Cy-Fair (Cypress, Texas)
2009 — Skylar Diggins, South Bend Washington (South Bend, Ind.)
2008 — Nneka Ogwumike, Cy-Fair (Cypress, Texas)
2007 — Maya Moore, Collins Hill (Suwanee, Ga.)
2006 — Jacki Gemelos, St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.)