North Surry’s Malaya Johnson has chosen Elon University to continue her basketball career.
An all-conference selection in two sports, Malaya said basketball has always been her favorite over volleyball.
There were colleges that were interested in Malaya for volleyball, but once she stopped playing club events to focus on one sport, the interest fell off, said North’s Shane Slate, who has coached Malaya in both sports.
In volleyball, Malaya has a state championship to her credit, the MVP award from that title match, two all-conference team honors, all-tournament team honors and this fall’s player of the year award.
In basketball, she was an all-conference member as a sophomore and all-district second team. As a junior she was all-conference and all-district first team and was an all-Northwest selection by The Winston-Salem Journal.
Over her three previous years on varsity, the Lady Greyhounds went a combined 76-10.
As a sophomore she averaged 11.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and shot 53 percent from the field.
Without Midkiff pushing the tempo, the Lady Greyhounds scored 11 points per game less last season.
Malaya’s scoring average dipped slightly to 10.8 points, but her other numbers went up.
She averaged 10.3 boards, 4.8 assists, 4.4 blocks and 2.2 steals. Despite her increased aggressiveness on both ends of the court, she cut her personal fouls by half a foul per game and was seldom in foul trouble.
Without Midkiff’s outside threat, teams focused defensive pressure on the paint, but Malaya still shot 50 percent from the field.
When Malaya was at Franklin Elementary, the young girl was a cheerleader, not a baller, noted parents Shawn and Chris.
Malaya didn’t take up basketball until the fifth grade and was inexperienced when she got to Meadowview Middle.
“At first it was just fun,” she said of basketball.
“She was fairly raw like most freshmen when she came in,” said Slate.
“She has really absorbed a lot of skills and a lot of concepts in two sports,” he said. “And that’s probably the most impressive thing about where she’s come from and where she’s headed. She does have a lot of different things she can do in both volleyball and basketball.
“Her best basketball is still ahead of her. Her game has gotten better every year.”
Once she reached the ninth grade, Malaya became more serious about sports and began enjoying the challenges of playing upperclassmen.
“When I got the opportunity to play on varsity my freshman year,” she said, “I liked playing with the older girls and experiencing new things … like playing against much better people. I made me feel like I had to prove myself.”
The older players who had already earned honors like all-conference thought they could walk all over a young player like she was then.
“I try to make it my point not to let that happen and do my best,” she said.
When asked about her strengths, Malaya said, “To start with, my post game. The other aspects of my game I’ve gotten better at like with ballhandling. I’m still working on my shooting.”
As for her assists going up a season ago, she said, “I had to step up last year, which helped with that.”
She wants to continue working on her all-around game this season as well as stepping up into a greater leadership role on a young Greyhound squad.
“I’m vocal,” she said with a smile.
In a good way, Slate added. In fact, Malaya has received the Greyhound Pride Award three times as voted on by her teammates. The awards show her desire to cheer on her teammates and be supportive and encouraging, she said.
As for Elon, Malaya said that Coach Charlotte Smith really likes her game.
“She says that she feels that I can be an all-around player and she can use me in different places than I’m accustomed to for high school ball,” she said.
“Once she gets into a little more intensive program with the one-on-one workouts, I think you’re going to see her game get even better,” said Slate. “Going every day in practice and every day in skill sessions are totally going to make her better because she won’t always be the tallest kid on the floor anymore.”
Of her previous three years on the basketball team, Malaya said her favorite moment so far came two years ago when she was a sophomore. The Hounds beat Salisbury in the sectional final to advance to the West Regional final.
In addition to Elon, Malaya said she received scholarship offers from Appalachian State, UNC-Charlotte, Western University, East Carolina, UNC-Wilmington and Davidson.
Another 15 schools called asking about her, noted Slate.
She thanked Coach Slate for helping get her name out to scouts and AAU coach Alan Hiatt, of the Surry Storm, for getting her into showcase tournaments where college coaches frequent.
In choosing Elon, she said, “I just feel that it’s the best fit for me out of the options that I have.”
Mom Shawn said she liked the campus and the student/teacher ratio. She said it is about 25-to-1, which is similar to Malaya’s high school classes.
She also likes that Elon is only about an hour and a half away.
Malaya said she doesn’t now any of her teammates yet, but has played against one of the girls in AAU ball.
On her major, she said, “I’m really undecided, but I’m leaning toward psychology.”
In addition to athletics, Malaya said, “I’m in the Dream Team Club here at school. We do tobacco awareness, drug abuse awareness, stuff like that.”
Malaya gave thanks to her parents for giving her so many opportunities in sports and her coaches for all their help.