Christina Johnson’s journey to high school basketball stardom has included more stops than most.
Her Lambert coaches and teammates Lambert couldn’t be happier that Forsyth County wound up being the last one.
“She really contributes to our team in a lot of ways,” point guard Kaitlin Kidwell said. “She’s definitely a threat to any team we play.”
Johnson’s 21.6 points and 10 rebounds per game have her earning all-state consideration. Moreover, she’s been the most consistent piece of a third-year program in the middle of a breakout season.
Lambert (14-6 overall, 8-2 Region 7-AAAA) sat in third place in the region standings heading into Thursday’s game against No. 5-ranked Creekview.
Chronic back pain, a lack of size and being the focal point of every opposing coach’s game plan haven’t stopped Johnson from becoming a dominant forward in her senior campaign. She’s scored 20 or more points in 10 of 20 games this season, including 46 against Johns Creek early in the year.
“Everyone we play knows she’s going to be our best player,” Thompson said. “She’s no secret.”
Not anymore, no. But before last summer, no one in Georgia high school basketball circles even knew her name.
As the daughter of an Air Force officer, Johnson’s spent her entire life on the move. The Atlanta area is the eighth place she’s called home.
“It’s been hard adjusting,” Johnson said. “It’s just different.”
Born on a military base in Illinois, Johnson’s family lived in Missouri, Washington, South Carolina, Colorado, San Diego and Temecula, Calif. before coming to Georgia.
She attended Great Oak High School in Temecula for two years, playing varsity basketball as a sophomore.
Her father then took a job in Atlanta, and the family moved once more — this time all the way across the country.
Yet again, Johnson left friends and teammates behind.
The summer before her junior year, Johnson enrolled at Lambert. The first time Thompson saw her with a basketball in hand, the coach was immediately thrilled she’d landed on his roster.
“It’s been a blessing for me, because I don’t know how often you get to coach someone as gifted as she is as an individual player,” said Thompson, who began his first varsity gig when Lambert opened in 2009. “She definitely raises the overall climate of our team, to say the least.”
Her impact was immediate. She scored 13.6 points a game as a junior and grabbed 10.9 rebounds. Lambert finished 13-12 (8-7 region) and fell one victory short of a state tournament berth.
Quiet, shy and unassuming, it’s always taken Johnson a while to adjust to a new environment off the court.
But her newest set of basketball comrades eased the latest transition.
“When I first got here, I was really welcomed by my teammates,” Johnson said. “I’ve been able to make friends on the team.”
An entire offseason to hone her skills and acclimate appears to have paid off. An undersized power forward generously listed at 5 feet, 11 inches (she’s closer to 5-foot-8), her athleticism fits right in with Thompson’s run-and-gun offensive philosophy. It’s also allowed her to guard opposing teams’ best offensive players, no matter what position they play.
Johnson’s uncanny ability to tear down rebounds has led to much of her production. Of her 202 boards this season, more than half (107) have come on the offensive end.
Quick enough to slip in front of defenders at the last second, she often outmuscles taller opponents for the ball and either gets an easy put-back or draws a foul.
“She just will battle,” Thompson said. “She just gets in there and she finds the spots to be in and gets great position.”
Johnson’s physical style has come at a price.
She injured her ankle her sophomore year while running track and required surgery the following summer.
The ankle no longer bothers her, but daily pain in her back does. Six different specialists have looked into the problem so far, and “nothing’s worked,” she said.
Twice this season, she’s left the floor with a bloodied nose.
“She’s tough,” said Kidwell, also a senior. “She doesn’t let anything affect her.
“She shows a lot of focus, so I think that’s what everybody looks up to, that she’s got her mind determined to do whatever she can.”
Said Johnson: “I feel like I’m not dying, so I can play through it.”
Such grittiness comes from a life of adaptation. Through all her family’s transitions, basketball has remained a constant.
“I think it’s helped me make some friends,” Johnson said, “people that I can call up from all around the country … I have something in common with them. I can keep up with their [careers] and they can keep up with mine.”
A few months from now, Johnson will move again.
If all goes as planned, she’ll finally settle down in the same location for four years as a member of the Lee University (Cleveland, Tenn.) Lady Flames.
Her high school mission is far from finished. Starting with Thursday’s game against Creekview, Lambert closes out the regular season with a five-game stretch that includes the region’s four other top-five teams.
That hasn’t stopped Johnson from discussing her future role with Lee coach Marty Rowe, though.
“I know my coach said that he’s looking for more of a rebounder,” Johnson said.
If her college career mirrors her high school days, they’ve found the right girl for the job.