Prep2Prep 2019-19 NCS Girls Basketball Honors
Bishop O'Dowd's Kennedy Johnson is the NCS Junior of the Year. (Bishop O'Dowd Basketball)

NCS Junior of the Year

After an outstanding season last year that saw her garner the Prep2Prep North Coast Section Sophomore of the Year award, Kennedy Johnson had another exceptional season for the second straight year and now makes it two-for-two after the Dragons 6-0 forward has been named the Prep2Prep NCS Junior of the Year.

“Wow, again? Thank you,” responded Johnson when told she was a repeat winner. “It feels good and like all my hard work is finally paying off.”

“I feel very grateful for all of these awards I’m getting, especially after the way our season ended,” Johnson continued. “Even though we were only one game away, these accolades give me a positive perspective of how successful my junior season was for both me and my teammates.”

The one game away was the fact that after beating Salesian 62-60 in a thrilling CIF Northern Regional Division I championship game victory, the chance to avenge the loss in last year’s CIF state D1 title game to Rosary-Fullerton, and the chance to make it two straight this year over the Royals after a 43-40 victory at the Nike TOC in December, was wiped out by the pandemic that forced the cancellation of the CIF state championships.

Like the rest of her teammates, and the boys team that was also affected, Johnson was devastated when she got the bad news.

“It was really devastating to not be able to play in the state game,” Kennedy remarked. “We found out in the morning during school. All men and women’s varsity basketball players were called on the speaker to meet in the gym and that’s when they told us our season was canceled. It was really hard walking in the gym and seeing my teammate’s faces. They were all crying.”

“I took it really hard too and I was sad that our season was over but I mostly felt sorry for the seniors,” Johnson continued. “I really wanted to win this last game for them. We all deserved it but they did more. Especially because the majority of these girls were my teammates for the past two and three years and we were all family to each other. It just hurt knowing that was my last time stepping out on a court with them.”

What the coronavirus could not wipe out was a season in which Johnson was also a first-team Prep2Prep North Coast Section, San Francisco Chronicle all-Metro and BANG all-Bay Area selection, and the West Alameda County Conference–Foothill Division Player of the Year.

Along the way Johnson led the team in scoring and rebounding with 18.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

Kennedy came up big in big games against the Dragons' toughest opponents. There were downers but her game-high 17 points and seven rebounds with four steals and two blocks and only one turnover in the NorCal D1 title-game victory over Salesian was a high point for Johnson.

“The best part of the season probably was to just experience winning a NorCal D1 title again and knowing that we were going to have another opportunity at getting a ring,” reflected Johnson. “The celebration after the buzzer went off will probably be the highlight of my junior season. Just running out on the court to meet my teammates and us yelling, jumping, and falling to the ground was honestly one of the happiest moments of my basketball career so far.”

In the semifinals and in a 67-50 victory over a Clovis North-Fresno team that had pinned a 65-64 loss on O’Dowd at the West Coast Jamboree in December, Johnson went for a double-double 14 points and 13 rebounds with six blocked shots.

Johnson had 19 points and 12 rebounds with three steals in a first-round minor 57-50 upset of Miramonte in the inaugural NCS Open Division playoffs. Against Rosary at the TOC, she registered a double-double 12 points and 12 rebounds with four assists and two blocks. From a numbers standpoint her 21 points and 16 rebounds, plus five blocks and three steals in a 48-42 TOC victory over Arizona No. 2 Hamilton-Chandler may have been her best game.

But immediately after that win the most impressive performance by Johnson may have come in a 43-37 loss by Cal-Hi Sports state No. 13 ranked O’Dowd to state No. 3 Windward-Los Angeles when she went for 19 points and 11 rebounds with five steals and two blocked shots.

“Kennedy exceeded our expectations, because not only did her game grow, but she grew and matured as player and person,” said O’Dowd Coach Malik McCord. “As a player she improved on still being an impact player on the court when her shot may be off. She would step up even more defensively and never let her shot dictate her effort or leadership on the team.”

“She also developed into a very good on ball defender on the perimeter,” continued McCord. “This gave me the ability to move her around and guard not only the other team’s better forwards, but their key guards as well.”

McCord mentioned leadership. Does Johnson see herself as a leader, and what about mentoring younger players?

“Yes, I do see myself as a leader,” Johnson answered. “I lead more in my actions rather than my words. I try to give it 100-percent in whatever I do, whether that is simple practice drills or in games. I do this not only to push myself but to also push my teammates to go hard at all times because it will only get us a better as a whole.”

“I know that I’ll have an even bigger leadership role next year since we will be losing seven girls from our team,” continued Johnson. “We will only have six returners and I’ll have the most varsity experience on the team.”

McCord sees it similarly.

“Kennedy will become more of a leader her senior year without me having to ask her. She knows my expectations and does a good job of fulfilling them and making sure everyone else is trying to do the same,” McCord said. “Kennedy is a genuine person and that comes across in her leadership skills on and off the court, and her teammates appreciate it.”

What kind of teammate does Johnson feels she is, and what about mentoring younger players?

“I feel that I am the type of teammate that tries to helps make others around me better both on and off the court,” Johnson said. “I do try to mentor younger players because I know that they are the future of O’Dowd and someday might have to do the same thing to players younger than them.”

Once again, McCord saw it in somewhat the same way.

“Kennedy is about her teammates and her teammates know she has their back, every single one of them,” McCord remarked. “She wants all of her teammates to be successful, it’s not just about Kennedy.”

Like every player at every level Johnson has attributes and areas needing improvement.

“It would be easy to just say her strong basketball skill set is her strongest attribute, but what truly comes to mind is her leadership and coachability,” McCord said. “She is not only a good leader from being vocal and trying to encourage her teammates, but she also accepts accountability when she messes up and takes feedback well from coaches and teammates.”

“Kennedy can hold herself accountable and then try to fix it, not make excuses,” McCord continued. "I also love how she is about her team, Kennedy will run through a brick wall for her teammates. I can always depend on Kennedy to have her teammates and coaches backs.”

Johnson had this take on her best assets. “I think my best attributes are overall being a great teammate and friend. I’ve heard people say that I’m hardworking, that I’m caring, dependable, and humble.”

Areas for improvement?

“I always tease her about her lack of vertical, but what is amazing is she is a good shot-blocker and rebounder without being able to jump out of the gym,” answered McCord. “I provided her with some exercises to improve this area, and it will only add to her game on both ends of the floor. I want to see her improve her off the dribble pull up from midrange and three-pointer. She is already a good catch-and-shoot from those areas, but now she can add the off the dribble. She has the skill set to do this.”

Johnson agreed about the shooting. “I feel like I need to improve on getting the confidence to take more three-point attempts and jump shots overall. I also need to improve on using more of my handles to help create space for my jump shot. I have all of those skills but it’s more of getting the courage to use it on the court.”

Athletics, but not necessarily basketball, have had a place in the Kennedy family. Kennedy’s father, Reuben Johnson, who grew up near the south shores of Lake Okeechobee in Florida, was mostly a football player but also dabbled in basketball. Eventually, after playing JC football he transferred to San Jose State. Her mother, Avis Johnson, went to high school in the San Fernando Valley at Cleveland-Reseda, but mom wasn’t really an athlete.

Kennedy is the middle of three sisters. Her older sister, 21-year old Raven Johnson, played basketball at Hayward and then at College of San Mateo. Little sister Brooklyn Johnson is a 10-year old that plays basketball.

Not surprisingly, Johnson, who carries a 3.7 GPA and has English as a favorite subject, and tells Prep2Prep her ultimate goal is to play at the next level, has several college offers. Her father’s alma mater San Jose State is on the list, as is UC Santa Barbara, the University of San Francisco, Florida A&M, and Grand Canyon University.

“Kennedy has a high ceiling so I expect her to be successful at the next level, and I’m doing my best to help prepare her, but I expect her game to take another leap at the college level,” McCord said. “I think she will continue to be able to guard 1-4 and play the 2-4 successfully. She will work hard and be a key contributor. Kennedy will not be intimidated by the next level.”

College is still a year away for Johnson, so before that there is her senior season, and Johnson has some clear goals.

“The team goal is ultimately to win state but before that happens it’s just to improve every day as a team in practice and in games,” Johnson said.

“Personal goals are to be more comfortable with my outside game, taking more shots and using my handles a lot more,” Kennedy continued. “My main goal is to be better than I was my junior season and exceed my averages in every category, and also to be a better and stronger leader.”

“I can’t stress enough how good of a person Kennedy is. She’s is a joy to be around and as a coach I just loved watching her grow as a player, but more importantly as a young lady,” McCord said in conclusion. “I am glad I have Kennedy one more year, and whatever college she decides to go to, they are getting an impact player and person on and off the court.”

Congratulations to Kennedy Johnson on repeating for Prep2Prep class honors as the 2019-2020 North Coast Section Junior of the Year.

Others considered include Redwood's Kylie Horstmeyer, St. Joseph Notre Dame's Makenna Mastora, Miramonte's Mia Mastrov.

NOTE: We would like to thank our media partners, coaches, parents, players and fans for contributing photos for our all-section features. We salute all of the players that have made this a wonderful season of NCS basketball.