Feb. 25, 2009

By Lara Boyko
Special to NCAA.com

Paris may be known as the City of Lights, yet it is 6-foot-4 sophomore center Paris Johnson -- a four-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honoree this season -- who is lighting-up the league in just her second season.

“I’ve just been pushing myself to the best of my abilities,” said Johnson. “Also, I am a year older and wiser so I am trying to grow up on the court and getting more court smart. I took a big step in learning from last year to this year and I want to become a better player where I am on a team that can go to the NCAA Tournament. I want to be part of the team that gets to that level, so I go out and practice hard every day.

Maintaining the ability to play her game no matter what kind of situation she is in has been a key to success for Johnson since her early days in basketball.

“Walking into my first youth basketball tryouts and not only being the tallest girl, there, but also the youngest one there…” said Johnson. “It was kind of awkward and I wasn’t sure why everyone was staring at me.”

Now people are staring at her for the right reasons. Johnson currently leads the MWC in blocked shots (2.83) and is ranked in the top five in scoring (fifth), field goal percentage (third) and rebounding (fourth). In addition, she is leading her team in points (15.1 ppg), blocks (68) and rebounds (8.5 rpg).

Yet even though she has comfortably asserted herself as one of the go-to players at SDSU and in the conference, it was finding a comfortable place to fit into that had to happen first. To make this happen, Johnson looked to her older sister, Desiree, a former SDSU standout.

“It was exciting to watch her play here,” said Johnson. “(Desiree) was a great post player. I liked watching her go up against everyone else and push them around. I also liked seeing how she interacted with everyone on the SDSU team even though they had to drag me along to places. Her playing here is one of the big reasons why I decided to come here. I saw how coach (Beth) Burns brought out her potential as a player.

“She comes to almost every game now and will sit there next to my brother and mom watching. It’s not weird anymore to have her watching me play. Last year, it was as I was wearing her jersey number and she was cheering for me instead of the other way around.”

While it may have been exciting for Johnson to watch Desiree play for SDSU, it was equally as exciting for Desiree to look up in the stands and see a familiar face.

“It was nice having her come to as many games as she could,” said Desiree, who played at SDSU for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. “We are so many years apart, but since I sat out a couple of years before playing at the college level, it was nice to have her be a little bit older when she came to see me play. When she wasn’t there, I would question her about why she didn’t make it.”

Johnson is also helping continue the family tradition of playing at SDSU in more ways than just stepping on the court.

“First reason is because my sister wore No. 32 when she played here,” said Johnson of why she wears No. 32. “Also, it is my favorite number backwards. I grew up playing with No. 23 because of Michael Jordan, who is my idol player. Then when I came in here another player already had 23 so I couldn’t have it. So I ended up going with 32.”

With a close role model to follow, it’s probably no surprise why the younger sister is helping the SDSU program to shine.

“Desiree seemed more like a beast when she was playing as she could take over the paint,” said Johnson. “I want to be the same way.”