Raven Johnson has achieved many accolades as point guard for the Westlake Lions. Some of those include: 2020 Miss Georgia Basketball, 2021 McDonald’s All-American and most notable, three time state champion (that could change to four by late Friday evening).

The fact of the matter is that Johnson is a highly talented player who will continue to rack up awards and achievements and play at the next level. That next level right now is at South Carolina under great head coach Dawn Staley. Friday, the Lions will play Carrollton for a chance to win four consecutive state titles. Before I speak on that, it is worth learning about Johnson, the person behind the jersey and how all of this began.

Johnson grew up in the Sandtown community which is located less than one mile from the high school. At the age of five, her grandfather introduced her twin brother Richard Johnson and her to the sport.

“They used to call us ‘thriller killer’ because he had the offense and I had the defense,” said Johnson. “Playing with my twin brother and granddad made me want to play.”

Since her early days, she has played with teammates Brianna Turnage and Ta’Niya Latson. Turnage who many know by her nickname “Snoop” has been playing with Johnson since they were both four years old. Latson has played with Johnson since her freshman year. This amount of time playing with each other has created great and everlasting relationships and team chemistry. Johnson gives credit to her teammates, particularly these two for the Lions state titles and success.

“We are like a trio,” Johnson said. “We have good chemistry on and off the court. If I see her, she see me.”

As life continued for Johnson, going into high school, she had the choice of choosing where she wanted to go play. Johnson could have gone to any other school but she chose to play under head coach Hilda Hankerson at Westlake. One of the most important things she told Hankerson was, “We are going to win four.”

After finishing with 22 points in a dominating 68-30 win at River Ridge last Friday, Johnson is one step close to finishing her promise to Hankerson. She gives all of her credit to God while understanding everything that is at stake.

“There’s not a lot of people that can say they went to the state championship four times and most likely winning it four times,” said Johnson. “I am beyond blessed God gave me this opportunity to make it to the state title.”

Johnson’s will to continue playing basketball paid huge dividends for her. Last season, she was voted Miss Georgia Basketball (as a junior) and admits she was even surprised. “I was shocked because I was a junior,” said Johnson. “There were a lot of seniors in front of me that were good like Genesis [Bryant], Anaya Boyd, Tate Walters…seniors like that. It actually put confidence in me.”

Confidence and talent is crucial to a players ability and development. While you may see the good with Johnson, there were rough times for her. Times where she even thought she could not do it.

“Being in the gym day in and day out, there were some times like I do not want to play this sport anymore,” Johnson said. “It was annoying. There were times that people doubted me, I was letting that get to me. Now it just motivates me.”

Motivation is what drives Johnson and this Westlake team to be in the position they are in now. Even with the pressure of winning their fourth consecutive state title in the midst of a “COVID” year, she admits that this year’s title is not the hardest to win compared to years past.

“I would say no because of the way we practice. I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest because we have to play four or five games to get to the state championship. It is the same routine.”

As Johnson’s season comes to an end Friday night, she will be joining the Gamecocks next season under head coach Dawn Staley. She explains her decision.

“Believe it or not, [it] was not my first [choice],” said Johnson. “I actually had a dream school I wanted to go to. The fans is what got me [and] the style of play. Seeing Dawn coach and her being the ‘point guard coach’, I feel like she can take my game to the next level and I can be a point guard that kids look up to and a role model.”

Role models have a huge influence on fans, culture and people in general. One of the people Johnson admires Maya Moore and her work in social justice.

“I like the way she does things outside of basketball to help others,” Johnson said. “I like the way she does things on and off the court. I like how she helped to overturn a sentence for an innocent man. And she is Georgia made.”

In the end, while basketball is her sport and she loves it, Johnson’s legacy is bigger than basketball.

“I want to do a cancer foundation for my grandpa,” said Johnson. “For our beloved principal, I want to do a foundation for him. I really want to give back to this community. I most definitely want to give back to others, the homeless and the people that need help.”

In the words of Johnson, “The cream always rises to the top.” As her last game approaches, she hopes that she and the Westlake Lions will remain at the top, marking their names in the history books once again.

Photo: Anfernee Patterson/The Atlanta Voice

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