Times-Call (Longmont)

CU’S Johnson adjusting to college life

- By Brian Howell bhowell@ prairiemou­ntainmedia.com

While living in Anchorage, Alaska the past six years, Mikayla Johnson got used to seeing moose walking around town.

In Boulder, she misses that, but joked, “I guess you replace it with the raccoons you guys have — and squirrels. That’s different.”

That’s hardly the biggest adjustment for Johnson, however.

A 6-foot-1 wing, Johnson graduated from Bartlett (Alaska) High School a semester early and joined the 21st-ranked Colorado women’s basketball team last month. She is using this semester to redshirt so she can focus on her developmen­t. She won’t play any games for the Buffaloes this season.

“Some days it’s definitely hard,” she said. “Some days it’s challengin­g and I think that’s good for me, especially presented early. … I think it’s a huge opportunit­y for anybody.”

While the Buffaloes (205, 11-3 Pac-12) are contending for a conference title going into the final four games of the regular season, Johnson is getting acclimated to college life a bit earlier than most.

One of five players in CU’S 2023 recruiting class, Johnson is the only one already in Boulder, as the rest will arrive in the summer.

“It was pretty tough,” she said of choosing to skip her senior season at Bartlett. “I had to leave my family, too, and my family just didn’t get to watch me in person for my senior year, so I had to give that up, as well, but, I mean, hopefully they’ll see me on the court here shortly.”

Johnson averaged 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 4.0 steals as a junior. Coming from Alaska, she was lightly recruited, but was able to showcase her game on the AAU circuit last summer with the FBC Northwest Alliance.

“It was a big summer for me,” she said. “It was like a go big or go home kind of situation. That’s when I picked up all my big time offers, and it’s basically just God presented himself and he helped me out.”

Arizona State, Boston College, Grand Canyon, and Texas Southern were among the schools that offered her a scholarshi­p last summer, and she took an unofficial visit to UCLA. CU offered in late July, she visited Boulder in early September and committed on Oct. 1.

Now, she’s adjusting to tougher workouts, learning time management and dealing with the fast pace of a Pac-12 practice.

“I definitely get beat up almost every time I’m on scout team, but I learn a lot,” she said.

While mostly facing guards in practice, Johnson said, “I’ve had to play the post position a few times and I was getting roughed up down there.”

Head coach JR Payne is excited to see what these few months will do for Johnson’s career.

“The type of training that she’s getting and the type of growth and developmen­t that’s going to happen between January and July when all the other freshmen get here, we’ll expect her to behave like a sophomore by the time summer comes around,” Payne said.

“I really think she can play, so being able to get here early is going to make her even more ready, kind of be past all of the emotional and mental hurdles that you go through when you first come to college.”

During the recruiting process, Johnson clicked with the players and staff right away.

“I just loved everything about it — the culture, everything,” she said.

Under Payne, CU has developed a culture built on family, but also hard work. So far, Johnson has proven to fit right in.

“I really do just with come in with a positive mindset, ready to learn each day, honestly,” she said. “It’s challengin­g, but that’s what makes it fun. That’s what the game of basketball is at the end of the day and I love it.”

 ?? CLIFF GRASSMICK — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Colorado’s Mikayla Johnson, left, and Frida Formann celebrate after the win over Washington on Feb. 12.
CLIFF GRASSMICK — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Colorado’s Mikayla Johnson, left, and Frida Formann celebrate after the win over Washington on Feb. 12.

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