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BYU women's basketball: Paisley Johnson adds play and personality to the Cougars

PROVO — Some athletes prefer not to reveal much about themselves, clipping their comments to media outlets, while others reveal quite a bit, and are generally happy to discuss themselves and the team to the public.

And then there's BYU sophomore guard Paisley Johnson.

The BYU women's basketball team's second-leading scorer this season doesn't have a shy bone in her body, making her a delight to talk with, sure, but more importantly it benefits her team.

"Her enthusiasm and confidence definitely rolls over to the other girls," said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. "When they get discouraged, her bubbly personality and how she treats things is a wonderful thing. And it's not just the players, it helps the coaches."

An interview with Johnson is rarely a short one and never one that doesn't leave all involved smiling or even laughing out loud, given her extreme candid nature.

"Sometimes it comes back to bite me, and I don't know where it came from, but I just enjoy being happy and people seem drawn to it," Johnson said. "And because of that it just gives me more confidence to be just what I am. I think my confidence helps my teammates — at least I hope it does — and that's obviously the best thing."

Johnson came to BYU for the 2017-18 season after accepting an offer extended to her shortly after attending her first BYU basketball camp the summer after her freshman year in high school. It was a camp the Everett, Washington, native didn't want to attend at all.

"My dad made me go and I really didn't want to," Johnson said. "First, I had to miss the last day of school, but mostly because I didn't want to do the stereotypical Mormon thing of just going to BYU."

Johnson impressed coaches a great deal at the camp, and was invited to go back later that summer to the program's Elite Camp. There, the 5-foot-9 guard impressed enough to warrant a scholarship offer from BYU coaches the following September, at the start of her sophomore year.

Like a lot of young athletes, Johnson didn't initially know what to think of the offer, although she was thrilled to have received one.

"It was surreal and I honestly didn't know exactly what it meant," she recalled. "But it was so cool and we were all thrilled — my family, coaches. I didn't tell everyone immediately, but everyone was so excited and it was just awesome to receive that and have that opportunity."

True to form, Johnson pretty much decided on her own to accept the offer shortly after it was extended, and casually made a call to one of Judkins' assistants on her way to a volleyball practice.

BYU Cougars guard Paisley Johnson (13) steals the ball from Pacific Tigers guard Ameela Li (21) during the first half of the game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.
BYU Cougars guard Paisley Johnson (13) steals the ball from Pacific Tigers guard Ameela Li (21) during the first half of the game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

"The coach freaked out and told me to immediately call Judkins," Johnson said. "So I told good old Juddy. He was excited and it's been BYU ever since."

Her first year at BYU didn't go as planned, as coaches strongly leaned toward redshirting her before deciding otherwise.

"She says it how it is, and I love that about her ... So she let us know she didn't want to redshirt, but more so by her play than by anything she said," Judkins said. "We could just see she'd be a big asset to the team last year, and she was."

Johnson didn't start, but played a valuable role off the bench as a defensive stopper her freshman year. Since then she's worked to expand her role, employing a productive offensive game while maintaining and even enhancing her role as a shutdown defender this season.

"She's been awesome. She's the best wing defender on our team and I'd say she's the best player we have at creating her own shot," Judkins said. "She's surprised me with her outside shot, and you can tell she's worked hard on it ... I couldn't be more happy with her for what she's done for the team."

As for Johnson, she's enjoyed her time at BYU, both on and off the court, although the overall experience has provided its challenges.

"It's tough academically, but I've been able to learn so much school-wise," Johnson said. "Just working and keeping up with this school full of valedictorians is really challenging, but it's also really satisfying. I've loved being here and I'm excited to keep improving and being the best athlete and student that I can."