It's been a wild few weeks for Nyssa's Gracie Johnson, one of the state's fastest-rising girls basketball prospects.
The 6-foot-5 Johnson, who will be a junior this year, has made a splash with her play on the Northwest Blazers, a Spokane-based AAU team, and colleges are taking notice.
Johnson's head is spinning as the Division I offers start to pile up. They include Portland, Boise State, UNC Greensboro, Montana and Montana State.
“It happened pretty quick,” Johnson said. “It's a lot to handle. It's all coming pretty quickly. I was kind of hoping for it. I guess it wasn't a surprise, but it's pretty cool to get all those big D-I schools all in a row.”
The recruiting process is nothing new in the Johnson household. Her brothers Spencer, a sophomore on the team at Brigham Young last season, and Isaac, a highly recruited 6-11 center heading into his freshman season at Oregon, have walked the same path.
“They've helped me with this process a lot,” Johnson said. “They're helping me narrow down schools and figuring out what questions I need to ask to see what is best for me.”
Johnson is the daughter of Darren Johnson, superintendent of the Nyssa School District. She lived in Nyssa at an early age but moved away in 2014 when Darren when took a job as a principal in Provo, Utah.
Johnson returned to Nyssa just prior to her freshman year. She started her first season on the JV team and finished it as a varsity starter, then broke out as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
She led the Bulldogs (9-5) into the final four of the 3A Showcase tournament, capping the season by going for a career-high 31 points, 16 rebounds and nine blocked shots in a 62-60 win over Santiam Christian in the third-place game.
Johnson not only grew two inches between her freshman and sophomore years, she honed her skills from offseason workouts with her father, who played at Snow College in Utah, and from competing in a winter league with HSB Academy in Boise.
“She made a huge leap,” Nyssa coach Jeremy Chamberlain said. “She put in a lot of individual time. … Once we saw her skill set, we just decided absolutely we could build something around that. This last year our guards developed enough that we were able to put a quality set of guards around her.”
Johnson is raw – she shot 49.2 percent on free throws (30 for 61) last season – but she has rare athleticism for her size. She won the 200 meters in the 3A Special District 3 track meet this year, clocking a personal-best 28.41 seconds, and high-jumped 5-0.
She doesn't exactly fit the mold for sprinters.
“They look at me, and everybody asks me how tall I am,” she said.
Although Johnson shoots right-handed on free throws and from the perimeter (she made 4 for 10 three-point attempts last season), she is more effective inside with her left hand. She said it was something she discovered after injuring her right shoulder in a youth tournament a few years ago.
“I told my mom about it, and she was like, 'Well, I guess you could try playing with your left hand, and see how that works for you,'” Johnson said of her mother, Emily, who played in high school. “I played the whole game with my left hand, and she saw that I was doing better finishing inside. So we started working with that and developing my left hand a lot more. I can pretty much do both now.”
Chamberlain said that Johnson also is adept at attacking off the dribble with her left hand.
“When she was young, her parents really hammered home that you have to be able to use both hands,” Chamberlain said. “She worked on her left hand so much that it almost became her dominant hand. But she can go either way.”
Johnson, who played some point guard for HSB Academy, is working on becoming “more comfortable” handling the ball. She said she also needs to get stronger so she can “get down low and post-up against those big girls.”
Chamberlain said of Johnson: “She's grown so fast, she's not a real physical player right now. She wears a small size uniform. She's tall and skinny. When she stops growing and is able to mature and fill out a little bit, and get in the weight room, she's going to have some potential there.”
Chamberlain sees Johnson as a stretch-four in college.
“She is extremely athletic,” he said. 'She's still gaining control of her body, and figuring out what moves she wants to do and when. When those things all come together, she's going to be really, really tough.”
Johnson's older brothers (Alex, Spencer and Isaac) helped her develop some toughness – “I got pushed down a lot,” she said – and they continue to be instrumental in her improvement.
“They've been a tremendous influence,” she said. “They're very supportive of this. They always call, always check in to see how I'm doing. When they get to come back and visit, we always do workouts. They help me with my shot.”
As Johnson improves, her college options are likely to expand.
“I really don't have a dream school I'd like to go to,” she said. “I'll just kind of look and wait for the options, see what's there. After I go and tour those, I'll see how I feel about it.”