It didn’t take long for Enterprise State Community College basketball coach Jermaine Williams to realize how Ariton’s Zakyria Johnson could fit in with his team.
“I went and watched her play and after watching the first two-three games, I knew she was a girl who I wanted on my team. She brings a lot of upsize with her size and versatility,” Williams said. “She is very skilled, a very talented young lady.”
The versatile Johnson, who played all five positions this past year at Ariton, will take those abilities to Enterprise State after signing this past Sunday to play for the Boll Weevils. She signed in front of family members.
“It was exciting,” Johnson said of her signing moment. “It has always been a dream of mine to go play at the college level and to do that, it was amazing. I want to thank my coaches, my teammates, friends and family for all their support.”
The 5-foot-11 Johnson, who will likely play small and power forward at ESCC, is a two-time Class 2A all-state selection from the Alabama Sports Writers Association, including a second-team all-state honoree this past season. She is also a two-time Dothan Eagle Super 12 honoree.
In the last two years, she combined to average 20.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 2.3 assists and 1.4 blocks a game. She earned 20.8 points a game this past year and 20.2 as a junior.
But to Ariton head coach Chuck Dunn, Johnson was more than just a standout player during her career with the Purple Cats.
“The people in Ariton know this: Zakyria was a phenomenal player for us, but the person and her family made her a joy to coach,” Dunn said. “Yes, she had this talent, but you always knew she would be at practice on time and you never had to worry about her. She was always dependable.
“That is why her teammates loved her, that’s why she is loved by her teachers. That is a credit to her parents (Vickkii and Vencardis Johnson). She has some unbelievable parents.
“Zakyria will be missed at Ariton so much more as a person than in the game of basketball. She is nothing but a winner.”
Dunn added Johnson was valuable to the Purple Cats for her “leadership, character and work ethic.”
Enterprise’s Williams noticed the same thing when watching Johnson play and meeting her.
“The biggest thing with her is her character,” Williams said. “I have never seen her out of character at a ball game. No matter what happens in the game, she kept her composure. That was a big draw to me as well. She is a great girl who comes from a great family.”
In deciding to play at Enterprise, Johnson said she enjoyed her experience in meeting Boll Weevil players and coaches as well as visiting the school campus.
“The school is like a tight-knit community and the coaching staff was very nice and welcoming plus it is close to home,” Johnson said.
Johnson displayed her versatility for Ariton with her ability to score, rebound, defend and dish off, but also with her outside shooting (32.8 percent on 3-pointers, 42-of-128) and ability at the foul line (77.2 percent, 136-of-176) over 23 games.
“I feel like I have great court vision,” Johnson said. “I am good at getting it to people for open shots and also driving and shooting off the dribble. I feel those are my strong suits.”
Though she has the offensive ability to take players off the dribble, shoot outside and score, Dunn says her defense and her intensity in battling against tall players for rebounds can’t be overlooked either. He also says Johnson rarely took a play off on either end of the court.
She excelled down low, notes Dunn, despite battling against talented all-state players such as Geneva County’s Karoline Striplin, G.W. Long’s Mary Beth Long and Abbeville’s Madisen Grimsley.
“Everybody wants to talk about her shooting and scoring, but the girl has averaged double-digit rebounds and a lot of blocks a game,” Dunn said. “Z can score the basketball for sure, but for me, I love watching her to play defense.
“She is one of those players also that she made sure the defensive end went to the offensive end of how she played so hard on the defensive end and made sure it would carry over to the offensive end and vice versa.”
While she had to play all the positions this year out of necessity for Ariton to be successful, Johnson will likely play two positions with special emphasis on one at Enterprise, which has some depth to its roster.
Dunn feels focusing on one position will only help Johnson improve her game.
“What I am excited about in college for her is they can put her at one position and she will grow even more,” Dunn said.
Johnson feels she will have to improve on her speed and quickness in transitioning from high school to the college level. She is hoping she can help lead ESCC to plenty of wins.
“I want to be a more improved player for my team and to do whatever I can to help my team have a successful season,” Johnson said.