The unstoppable Emily Johns
Women’s basketball junior stepped up in a rebuilding season
On the basketball court, junior forward Emily Johns is a 6-foot-1 force to be reckoned with. Off the court, she is a soft-spoken graphic design major who loves to spend her free time in the Katzen Arts Center.
Johns, or EJ, as her friends call her, started all 30 games she played this season — a major change from her past two seasons where she played nearly every game but did not start a single one. She’s earned the starting job as she led AU women’s basketball in both total points scored and points per game this season.
Last season, Johns was a role player on the AU women’s basketball team that went on to win the Patriot League and went to March Madness. This season, she’s a captain of a rebuilding AU team that lost its stars to graduation and the transfer portal.
“I think it's tough to be a leader on a losing team. Being a leader, you’re not always liked,” said first-year head coach Tiffany Coll. “For the most part, you’re not liked, you know, you’re respected.”
The team went 9-22 this season, with a 7-11 record in the Patriot League. Last season, they went 23-9 and 13-5 in the Patriot League, before eventually ending their season in March Madness.
AU then lost their leader in every prominent stat category, minus blocks. They lost their top three players in terms of average minutes, average points and total points. Lurking just behind them was Johns, and she was able to truly emerge as the star she is this past season.
“This year, she’s the main player,” Coll said. “Even if she’s struggling, she’s still the main player [opponents are] scouting for and so she’s had to evolve and add more to her game and have better countermoves.”
AU women’s basketball boasts just one graduate student and two seniors, so Johns suddenly emerged from her class of six juniors as a leader. She serves as captain along with senior Lauren Stack and graduate student Laura Graytok.
“I’m a captain, but I’m also a junior, I’m still learning,” Johns said. “Last year was so much fun, but coming into this year, I feel like I have more of a responsibility and more on my shoulders.”
Johns has been a leading scorer on the team for multiple years, but she still has further to go. The coaching staff said they hold her to high standards because they believe in her.
“I want her to have poise. I want her to feel like she’s unstoppable,” Coll said. “You know, I want that confidence to be there.”
Former head coach Megan Gebbia’s coaching style was more intense, correcting mistakes and focusing on Johns in practice, Coll said. But that Johns was younger and shouldered less of the team’s weight. This Johns is older and contributes a greater percentage of the team’s total scoring. She can’t just shoot now because the other team is always on her.
Johns is dedicated to her game, but she does have passions off the court. She’s majoring in graphic design and is passionate about the arts. Coll cited Johns’ love for photography and getting her nails done.
Like many AU athletes, Johns wants to keep playing her sport as long as possible. But once her time on the court ends, she’s determined to keep basketball in her life whether that be in coaching or working in the sports industry.
Everyone has kind words to say about Johns as a person, and it’s no surprise with her warm smile and sweet demeanor. Johns prides herself on this, she said.She wants to be approachable and a person you can go to — a true leader.
“I think she’s a great teammate. I think she’s very empathetic. She’s the one that will offer you the ride. I would say she’s a great kind of big sister,” Coll said. “And then that big sister also, you know, needs to lay down sometimes and tell you how it goes.”
Johns and the team have growing to do, but they’ll get there together. The roster should face minimal changes going into Johns’ senior season, providing more stability as they look to take a step forward. Whatever happens with the women’s basketball team next year, they’ll get there together.
“Our whole aspect is buying in and just trust in one another,” Johns said. “Whether it comes to the coaches and the team ourselves, because we knew coming into this season, it wasn’t going to be easy with all that we lost. But we also have to have each other's backs in terms of that.”
This article was edited by Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Natasha LaChac and Sophia Rocha.