Ms. Basketball of Illinois 2007 | Olney East Richland's Brittany Johnson
Brittany Johnson, 17, poses for a photo in the gymnasium of her high school in Olney on Thursday March 22, 2007. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune / March 22, 2007)
Weighing only 1 1/2 pounds at birth, Brittany Johnson struggled to survive.
"She was sick and puny, and they didn't think they could take care of her," Judy Johnson said of Brittany's birth mother and her family. "So teeny tiny because of all the drug use."
It seemed inevitable that Judy Johnson, already the foster mother to two of Brittany's sisters, would add another child to her care.
For her first 18 months, Brittany Johnson was on a heart monitor. Doctor visits were routine until she turned 4.
Basketball? Judy Johnson never entertained such thoughts.
"This is a kid I didn't think would live to be 6 months old," she said.
That's how life's journey began for Brittany Johnson, the Olney East Richland senior who has been voted Ms. Basketball of Illinois for the 2006-07 season.
The 5-foot-11-inch Johnson made it through those difficult early years to become the most prolific scorer in state history--boys or girls. And she will continue her basketball career for Big Ten power Ohio State.
Johnson says her physical struggles in childhood have been an inspiration.
"I knew I wanted to fulfill my dreams, do something for myself," she said. "I wanted to prove to anyone and all the doctors that I can succeed."
Few high school players reach the 3,000-point mark. Johnson blew past that, finishing with 4,031 to rank ninth among all girls who ever played basketball in the U.S. That broke the Illinois record of 3,403 set by Williamsville's Angie Sapp from 1989-93.
This season Johnson averaged 36.4 points to score 1,202--another Illinois record--in lifting her team to a 30-3 season and unbeaten record in the Apollo Conference. Her 52 points against Salem on Jan. 25 stands as the school record.
The numbers impressed coaches and members of the media throughout the state. They gave Johnson a decisive margin in voting for the award, to be presented April 28 at the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association banquet in Normal.
Johnson received 96 first-place votes, 54 more than runner-up Devereaux Peters of Class AA state champion Fenwick. Tracy Pontius of Downstate Morton was third in the voting, Bolingbrook's Brittney Thomas fourth and Fenwick's Alison Jackson--a future Johnson teammate at Ohio State--fifth.
Johnson succeeds Belleville Althoff's Theresa Lisch, who led St. Louis University in scoring as a freshman this season, as Ms. Basketball.
According to the most recent census, Olney has a population of 8,631. That's not counting the more than 100 white squirrels that have put the southeastern Illinois town 250 miles from the Loop on the map. The local Chamber of Commerce wrote, "In 1902, Olney's most famous residents made their first appearance in the state."
There's a squirrel count held each fall. But in recent years the town has been focused on counting Johnson's points. She's not only a great shooter--she holds the state mark for consecutive free throws made at 49--but fast as well.
"When I was a freshman we'd play the varsity, and I was the one who had to guard her," said teammate Catherine Joseph, a 5-11 junior. "That was a little discouraging. She's one of the fastest people I've ever watched play high school basketball."