Azaria Johnson started playing basketball at the age of 7 in the Richmond Hill Recreation Department youth program. Two years later she decided she wanted to play college basketball.
It’s not unusual for a child at that age to say they want to be a lawyer, doctor, firefighter, policeman, etc. Years down the road those career choices often become other choices.
Johnson, however, never wavered and in the ensuing years she put everything she had into becoming the best basketball player possible.
On Tuesday morning the focus, hard work and determination came to fruition when the Richmond Hill High School co-captain signed to play college basketball at Penn State Hazleton.
Johnson – who had several other offers – said she found the PSH campus and its location to her liking. Hazleton is located midway between Philadelphia (40 miles) and New York City (50 miles) with 1,500 students on a 125-acre campus.
The recruiting process moved rather quickly, Johnson said, after she was contacted by new head coach Jeff Onushco who was promoted last spring. He had been an assistant at the school since 2018.
“The coach reached out to me in April and I visited the campus in late June,” Johnson said. “I liked what I saw. They have a lot of resources to help you in your college career whether it is tutoring or athletic training and medical care.”
Johnson, the daughter of Marcus and Wyonna Johnson, moved to Richmond Hill with her family when she was in the third grade. Her father is retired from the Army and is now employed with the government in a civilian capacity. Mrs. Johnson has worked as a para-pro and in programs involving at risk children.
Johnson’s recruitment is an illustration of how recruiting has changed due to COVID-19 and coaches not being able to recruit off campus.
As a rule, Hazleton recruits primarily Pennsylvania and New York but faced with losing several players after last year’s season was shut down Onushco, as a late hire, turned to every source available in finding players.
Johnson had posted her profile along with videos of her in action on the National Collegiate Scouting Association website and it was there Onushco became aware of her.
According to Mrs. Johnson the Hazleton coach at first was not going to call as he assumed a player of Johnson’s caliber had already signed. He decided to call and discovered she was still available.
As they say the rest is history.
Johnson was a first team All-Region 6A player her junior and senior seasons for the Wildcats and in her three years on the varsity she helped lead Coach Sarah Jones’ teams to three GHSA Class 6A state tournament appearances and a 52-31 record while averaging 10 points and eight rebounds per game.
“She’s a great kid,” Jones said. “Seeing her growth on the court and as an individual was a joy to watch.
“There’s no doubt they’re getting a good player and even better kid. You always knew what you were going to get with Azaria. She’s a super hard worker. She can score but she was one of our best defenders.”
While a double figure scorer it was as a defender and rebounder that Johnson made her reputation. She and Kyra Finley were the only seniors on a Wildcats team that was 17-11 this past season. “I don’t talk much but I like to play defense and I hustled,” Johnson said. “I worked on my defense, especially my footwork. One of the keys is you can’t let yourself get frustrated when you get a bad call.”
Johnson said she was going to major in Rehabilitation and Human Services and was quick to tick off what she considered to be highlights of her Richmond Hill career.
“Going to the Sweet 16 my sophomore year,” Johnson said. “Beating Brunswick for the first time and winning at Glynn Academy for the first time. We won 19 games when I was a sophomore. We had some good teams.”