Erica Johnson calmly dribbled the ball and scanned UNC Wilmington’s defense as she jogged through mid-court.
As she crossed the 3-point line, Johnson was met by a defender, Ahyiona Vason, and took a step to her right. Vason took a step with her, but she needed to take a few more to catch Johnson.
Johnson dribbled the ball behind her back to her left hand and attempted to make a move past Vason and Gigi Smith, who unsuccessfully swatted at the ball. Johnson regrouped, took a quick step back and tried the same move again.
The brief three-second sequence left Vason out of place, looking to her left and anticipating a pass to Ohio’s Dominique Doseck. Johnson took a step back and, just like that, had about five feet of space in front of her.
It was the first time Johnson, who finished with 11 points, displayed her nifty dribbling moves in a game. It was also an example of why the Bobcats are eager to give the redshirt freshman significant minutes this season: She’s a master at dribbling the ball.
“She has so many tricks up her sleeve,” said Gabby Burris, who partners with Johnson in one-on-one practice drills. “Erica is a fantastic, amazing, great basketball player. Everything about her game is very, very good.”
Johnson was only nine minutes into her college debut when she made the nifty play. It caught the attention of several fans inside The Convo, but for her teammates, it was another ordinary play from Johnson, who sometimes turns such plays into a stylish passing sequence or a clean drive to the hoop.
“Erica always makes those crazy passes like, ‘Whoop, where did that go?’” Burris said. “We’re used to it.”
Johnson has always placed heavy emphasis on practicing her ballhandling skills. It was something her dad, Eric, always preached when she was younger, teaching her to practice dribbling with tennis and medicine balls around cones.
Now, it may take her to Ohio’s starting lineup. She wasn’t a starter Sunday, but she played 13 minutes off the bench and impressed coach Bob Boldon.
The Bobcats have a hole in their lineup after Boldon announced Sunday that Katie Barker, who started 31 games last season, is expected to miss the rest of the season with an injury.
Johnson is a candidate to fill that hole.
“She's a gifted kid offensively,” Boldon said. “I'm really happy with her. She needs games and minutes, and I think she's going to be a good player for us.”
Johnson’s ballhandling skills are among the best on Ohio, but that’s not always a good thing — she believes her dribbling abilities have stunted her offensive growth.
“I'm always thinking dribble first. I need to get out of that aspect,” Johnson said. “I need to (become) a triple-threat — shoot it, pass it, then dribble. I'm always thinking dribble first, and then I end up rushing my shot. (My) follow-through hasn't been how I want it, but I know what I need to work on.”
The same play Johnson used to shake off Vason can actually be used to explain Johnson’s philosophy. After Johnson crossed up Vason for separation, she didn’t pull up and shoot a deep field goal or look to her left and see Amani Burke, hands up and standing with plenty of space behind the 3-point line.
Instead, Johnson drove to the hoop and was met by three UNC Wilmington defenders who swatted away her attempt. It was a disappointing way to follow up the impressive dribbling that preceded it, but Johnson is confident she’ll be able to complement her impressive dribbling abilities with quality shots soon.
“, as well as the season-opener, I didn’t shoot the ball how I like to shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “I was a little bit uncomfortable and rushing my shot. I need to get comfortable and find that zone, and you guys will see my shot.”
When Johnson does find that zone, the Bobcats will have more than a player who can dazzle with dribbling and make a defender dance.
They’ll have a young — but complete — offensive player.