Greenville native Carly Johnson took her talents to Hartwick College two-and-a-half years ago and now in her junior campaign, the former Lady Spartan finds herself the leader of a young team amidst a rebuilding season.
Johnson wasn’t always your prototypical basketball player. In fact, the hoops star’s passion was originally on the pitch.
“Growing up I was always more interested in soccer,” she said, “But when I tried out playing basketball in middle school, I instantly loved it. I played with a lot of my friends from soccer, so that is what initially made me want to play basketball.”
Johnson may have started her journey on the hardwood as a middle-schooler, but it was away from the gym and on the pavement where she recalls her earliest memories. It was on that very pavement at her home were she obtained her competitive edge playing against her toughest opponent to date — David, her older brother.
“I have a lot of memories playing my older brother one-on-one in the driveway growing up,” she recalled. “I think he really made me tougher and more competitive at a young age.”
Johnson’s love for the game quickly grew and she expanded her playing horizons, going from competing strictly in school-level basketball to on the travel circuit.
Johnson joined the Empire State Blazers to further develop her basketball skills. However, as her love for hoops grew, sacrifices needed to be made for Johnson to continue her journey.
“In high school I made the sacrifice of choosing basketball as my number one sport in 11th grade. I didn’t play travel soccer anymore and played AAU all year round,” she said.
At the high school level, Johnson dominated.
The years of battling her brother in the driveway and playing travel basketball paid off. Johnson finished her career at Greenville with 849 career points, a first-team Patroon All-star nod as a junior, a Patroon MVP honor as a senior and a fourth-team All-State selection as a senior. The guard was also a pivotal piece in Greenville’s Section II, Class C championship in her junior season.
Before the laundry list of accolades and gaudy stats in her final two seasons, Johnson’s previous passion was with soccer, but all of that changed thanks to coach Brian Haller and the basketball staff at Greenville.
“I think I stuck with basketball was because of my high school coaches,” she said. “They played such a big part in my love for the game when I was younger and were always there to help me and lead me.”
Yet, Johnson was equally as dominant on the pitch as she was on the hardwood.
In her senior season she led Section II in goals with 33, was named Patroon Conference MVP and was selected second-team All-State.
However, the girl who grew up with a soccer ball at her feet now wanted a basketball in her hand.
“I decided to play basketball over soccer because I just got more excited about it,” Johnson explained. “I would always look forward to basketball season, and I loved being around my basketball team.
“I was honestly kind of burnt out from soccer after playing for so many years.”
With hoops on her brain, along with nursing, which is Johnson’s major, she decided to attend Hartwick College. Hartwick’s nursing program was her primary reasoning behind choosing the school, being recruited to play basketball for the Lady Hawks was just an added bonus.
Now, Johnson’s journey has provided her a new challenge with each season.
Upon arriving to Hartwick, the Lady Hawks had hired a new coach, Katie Marcella, who did not recruit Johnson out of high school.
As a freshman, she played on a team composed of mainly juniors and seniors and the Hawks finished middle-of-the-pack in the Empire 8 Conference. Despite being a freshman, Johnson appeared in 24 games, averaged 17.0 minutes per game and 5.6 points. The sharpshooter still had her stroke, though, finishing with a team-high 29 treys and connecting at a 42 percent rate.
“I thought Carly as a freshman was a very one-dimensional player. She really only offered one thing and that was her three-point shot,” Marcella said, describing her intial assessment of Johnson.
With room to improve in year two, Johnson made strides.
The Lady Hawks were a senior laden team and had tremendous success, making the playoffs.
Johnson, she saw a huge jump in playing time, appearing in 25 games and starting 23 while averaging 32 minutes per outing. She finished her sophomore campaign averaging 11.5 points per game – fourth best on the team and 14th best in the Empire 8 —, buried 55 treys, which tied the school record, grabbed 3.2 rebounds and dished out 1.8 assists per game.
Johnson led Hartwick in scoring seven times and sank a career-high five 3-pointers against Utica College and Cazenovia.
Now into her junior season, the individual success has continued and soared leaps and bounds, yet the team success has taken a hit. Johnson is now one of the oldest players on the roster and has assumed a position of leadership.
“Being a junior on a team with no seniors has automatically put me into a leadership role,” she said. “It was hard at first for me to accept that role because until this year I always had older players to look up to. I think I have helped the freshmen adjust on and off the court.”
With a young and inexperienced team, the Lady Hawks are currently 2-9 this season, but that hasn’t slowed down Johnson from having her most productive season.
Through 10 games, the junior guard is averaging 17.4 points per game, has buried 24 triples at a 40 percent connect rate, and has 21 steals.
Johnson is currently second in the Empire 8 in scoring and 10th in steals. This season she scored a career-high 22 points against SUNY Oneonta and has registered one made 3-pointer in each game this year.
“Since coming to Hartwick I think I’ve become a more versatile player,” Johnson said. “I used to mainly just be a three-point shooter, and now I feel I have a better mid-range game on top of the three-point shot. I’m also stronger now. I feel like I can hold my own on the court.”
Marcella can attest to Johnson’s growth over the last two seasons and it has shown this year that she is no longer that ‘one dimensional’ player she was upon first glance as a sophomore.
“Carly came into this season more fit than she has ever been. She is stronger, quicker than she has been in the past,” Marcella said. “Beyond that she has developed her game outside of just a stand-still, catch-and-shoot player. She is a much more versatile player than she was two years ago.”
Due to her development, Johnson’s mid-range game is what sets her apart from other guards in the Empire 8, according to Marcella.
“She has an unreal stepback pull-up jumper that I haven’t seen her ever use until this year.”
Now defenders must respect Johnson’s ability to drive to the basket, her mid-range game and ol’ reliable, her 3-point range.
With a season and a half remaining at Hartwick, the sky is the limit for Johnson who has big goals for herself and the team.
“I would really love to win an Empire 8 Championship before I graduate,” she said. “Some other goals I have for myself is to receive All-Conference honors, break the school record for 3-pointers, and maybe even reach 1,000 points.”
Those final two goals are far from lofty.
With 14 games remaining this season, and a whole campaign next year, Johnson currently sits fifth all-time in career 3-pointers with 108, needing only 58 more to etch her name atop the list.
As for 1,000 career points, that’s in the cards, as well.
Johnson has 595 career points and needs 405 to reach 1,000. To break the Top 15 all-time at Hartwick, Johnson needs 473 to pass Mara Tichy for 14th.
“Carly has a lot of growth over the next year and a half and I’m really excited to see what she does with that,” Marcella said. “The transformation of leadership happened really quickly with Carly and Cait [Corbett], with the previous season having six seniors ahead of them.”
Hartwick headed back out onto the floor last night with a road game against Utica and heads home to face Stevens Institute of Technology on Saturday at 4 p.m.