Only a handful of years ago, three Bison athletes were just like you. Quarterback Carson Wentz, women’s basketball player Holly Johnson and men’s basketball player AJ Jacobson were growing up in North Dakota and doing whatever they could do to stand out in their respected sport. Wentz was a multi-sport star at Century High School in Bismark, molding his athleticism while Johnson was taking every step necessary to become the next great college basketball player from Minot High School. Jacobson buried himself in his studies to prepare himself for life after basketball at Shanley High School while finding time to perfect his jump shot. Each athlete faced adversity before wearing the Bison jersey, but each of them are grateful for the journey they went through before becoming Bison.
Holly Johnson has endured three tough seasons at NDSU but has found a way to contribute on a high scale. As a junior, she was recognized as an honorable mention for the all-Summit League team. The Minot native recorded four double-doubles this past season and averaged a career-high in rebounds, with seven per game and averaged 12 points per contest. She also shot a career-high 70 percent from the free throw line. At 6-feet, she’s one of the smallest post players in the Summit League but makes up for her lack of size with tenacity and polished footwork.
Birth of a Dream
After making the Minot varsity team her sophomore season, Johnson’s head coach Todd Magnuson told her she had a future playing basketball in college. Once Johnson’s first season on the varsity team was complete, she committed herself to becoming the best all-around basketball player possible.
Overcoming the North Dakota Label
Johnson was late to join the popular AAU basketball circuit. She was heavily recruited to play division II basketball, but knew her skills would apply just as well in division I. To get her name out there and to work on her game against stiffer competition, she went to camps at the University of North Dakota, University of Minnesota and University of Tennessee. “I was always a huge Pat Summit fan and I would play in the shoes she signed for me in high school,” Johnson said. She did play two tournaments with the AAU team the Dakota Heat for Guy Fridley, and she got to travel to Mankato, Minn. and Kearney, Mo., for tournaments.
What Separates Holly From Other Players
“Holly was one of those very competitive young ladies who we knew we had to get her the ball somehow, some way. So a lot of the stuff we did in high school was designed around Holly. Holly could play the post for us, she can play point guard, she can play the two and she played all over for us. So one of the things we did, we went through Holly with everything we did. … I think it was her mindset within herself that she wanted to play division I basketball.” – Todd Magnuson coached Holly Johnson for three years at Minot High School.
Johnson was unaware of the AAU circuit until it was almost too late for her to get noticed by any colleges. So her biggest piece of advice for any high school basketball player is to get involved with an AAU organization. She also said if you’re serious about playing college basketball, “Get in the gym more and keep your passion for basketball.”
Former Minot High School women’s basketball coach Todd Magnuson said one of the biggest disadvantages for women’s high school basketball players in North Dakota is the consistent lack of size in the state. At 6-feet tall, Johnson has had to develop her other skills to compensate for the size disadvantages she faces in division I. She had to mainly focus on her strength and footwork. “I was not used to the pace of play or how big and strong these girls were,” explained Johnson. “I mean, lifting and all that stuff has been huge throughout my career and that’s for everyone on our team. I think it’s all of it (strength and footwork).”