mychal

by Eldon Khorshidi

It’s no secret the Huntington Prep (WV) men’s basketball program is one of the nation’s best. Head coach Rob Fulford and lead assistant Arkell Bruce continue to recruit and develop elite talent. From the days of OJ Mayo and Patrick Patterson, to recent graduate Andrew Wiggins, to current juniors Montaque Gill-Caesar and Thomas Bryant, Huntington is positioned for long-term success near the top of high school basketball. 

But just a few hundred feet away—as in, on the same campus—lies St. Joseph Catholic, Prep’s sister school and a basketball powerhouse in its own right. Last week, the Irish won a record sixth consecutive Class A State Championship, and its seniors finished with a 130-17 career record.

St. Joe’s success is due in no small part to Mychal Johnson, the team’s floor general and four-year captain. A 5-8 combo guard, Johnson recently repeated as the Gatorade West Virginia Basketball Player of the Year, leading the Irish to a 24-3 record and another state ‘chip. She averaged 20.3 points, 6 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.7 steals on the court, and achieved National Honor Society recognition with a 3.7 GPA in the classroom.

Committed to play for 34-0 (and counting) Notre Dame, the top-20 recruit is poised to make noise in the ACC next season. SLAMonline recently caught up with Johnson to discuss the Lady Irish’s stellar recruiting class—which includes the nation’s No.1 overall player Brianna Taylor, and McDonald’s All-American Kathryn Westbeld—trying to follow in the footsteps of Skylar Diggins, going to prom with Andrew Wiggins and more.

SLAM: Congrats on another state championship—your fourth, and the school’s sixth consecutive. That’s pretty good.

Mychal Johnson: Thank you. Yeah, we had another great season, and I’m really proud of all the girls. Winning the state championship is a reflection of everyone’s unselfishness and commitment to the team. It’s definitely a good feeling to end my high school career this way.

SLAM: This was your first year starting at point guard; previously you played shooting guard. Was the transition difficult?

MJ: Yeah, it was. At first, I was trying to get my teammates involved and be more of a facilitator, but I ended up passing way too much. I was just over-thinking the game, and it was counterproductive. Now, I think I’ve found my balance to be a solid combo guard and deliver in whatever role the team needs. I can facilitate or score points within the offense.

SLAM: What position do you think you’ll play at Notre Dame?

MJ: I’ll probably play more of the 2, but also help out at the 1. Mostly the 2, though, I would say.

SLAM: Speaking of Notre Dame, you committed at the beginning of your junior year. Why did you choose the Irish, especially so early?

MJ: I had a really good relationship with the coaches. First, talking to them on the phone, and then when I went up there, I met the team and we connected really well. I had a list of three schools—Virginia, West Virginia, and Notre Dame—and Notre Dame was my first visit. When I went up there, I spent the whole time with the team and I really liked it. So I didn’t want to waste my time and anyone else’s time if I already knew.

SLAM: Skylar Diggins was a senior at that point. Did you meet her on your visit?

MJ: Yeah. It was an awesome experience. Just to see how she conducts her business, and went about getting better—it made a big impact on me, and just being around her that weekend continues to motivate me.

SLAM: Was staying close to home a factor in your college decision?

MJ: As first it was because I’m a huge family person, and I didn’t think going far away was a good fit for me. But when I visited Notre Dame, I saw they want the best for me, just like my family does. So if I’m in an environment where the people want me to succeed, I should be fine. 

SLAM: How would you describe your game?

MJ: I’m a good scorer, first and foremost. I drive strong to the basket, but I can also pull-up from mid-range. Not many girls have a reliable mid-range game. I like to play off the dribble, whether it’s taking it to the basket or pulling-up for a jump shot. On defense, I take a lot of pride in containing penetration and stopping the ball at the point of attack.

SLAM: What’s your biggest area of improvement right now?

MJ: I think my strength is the biggest thing I need to work on, and I’ve been working on that. I’ve been lifting weights all season. This way, I’ll be prepared for the college game, where the girls are a lot bigger. Just trying to get my weight up, and be ready for that.

SLAM: Your incoming teammates, forwards Kathryn Westbeld and Brianna Turner, are pretty good, too. Are you familiar with them?

MJ: Westbeld and I played on the same AAU team in the 8th grade, and we won a national championship down in Cincinnati. And then we played this past summer together on the All Ohio Red. And Brianna and I went on a couple of visits together, and spent a bunch of time together at Notre Dame. So we’re definitely close, and we’ll get closer as we move forward.

SLAM: How did academics factor into your college decision?

MJ: I’m at a small private catholic school now, and it’s super strict and big on education. So education was extremely important. I wanted to be in a smaller environment, with the best education that I could get. And I think Notre Dame will definitely provide that.

SLAM: What are your goals for next season?

MJ: I just want to be the best player I can be, and help the team iany way I can. Hopefully we’ll win a national championship next year—that’s what I really want. I think we have a chance. Right now we’re 34-0, and we’re ranked No. 2 in the country, so the foundation is definitely there. We had Skylar Diggins the past couple of seasons, who was the best player in college basketball, and she helped set a standard of excellence we’re trying to keep going.

SLAM: Is there a specific player you try to model your game after?

MJ: Probably Skylar, because she can shoot, she can get to the basket, she can run a team as a point guard. She knew how to score, but could also run a team, and put her teammates in a position to be successful.

SLAM: You went to prom with Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins last year, and you two remain close friends. Help all of us out—what’s the scouting report on Andrew?

MJ: He’s so athletic and explosive that he can get to the basket anytime he wants to. His mid-range is good; he can work on his 3-point shooting, but we all have areas we can work on. And personally, I think his defense is one of the best in the country. He can guard 1-through-4, and he’s so athletic, he can go after anyone. Good player, for sure.