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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Pioneer Tyler Johnson inks to play women's hoops with Jayhawks

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  • Leavenworth High School forward Tyler Johnson remembers Sept. 1, 2013 vividly.
    With a change in NCAA recruiting regulations, college basketball programs around the country were given permission to start talking to high school juniors beginning on that date.
    Johnson said that was the day she first realized what sort of recruiting experience she was going to have as she prepared for her junior season with the Pioneers.
    "My phone started going off at exactly midnight," Johnson said. "Big programs like KU, Nebraska, Oklahoma — they started emailing me and texting me. That's when I was like, 'Wow, I'm actually getting big schools.'"
    After a full school year of getting courted by some of the biggest women's basketball programs in the country, Johnson signed to play for the University of Kansas earlier this week.
    Before signing, she said she had narrowed to three schools — Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas.
    It wasn't until her visit to Lawrence this week that her decision became clear.
    "Most of the time was hanging out with the players and getting to know (them)," Johnson said. "It was one of the reasons I decided to go there because I felt the most comfortable with their players out of all three schools."
    Johnson averaged 15.6 points per game for the state-champion Pioneers this year, earning first-team All-State honors. Her performance during the 5A state tournament — 45 total points, 22 rebounds and seven assists — was good enough to be named the most outstanding player.
    Beneath the accolades, head coach Derek Zeck said, is a player with a relentless work ethic and enough ability to make her presence known in any college program.
    "She's a big-time player who I believe would fit in any program around the country," Zeck said. "She can score, she can rebound ... she's really worked hard on expanding her game and becoming more of a face-up type person. (KU) has great coaches and I think it's a perfect fit for her."
    As the team's leading scorer since her sophomore season, Zeck said Johnson began to make a name for herself during the team's double-overtime loss to St. Thomas Aquinas High School during the first round of the state tournament that season.
    She turned in a 20-point performance during the loss and when she followed that up with a stellar offseason, Zeck said he knew she'd be getting attention from big-name programs.
    Johnson is the second incoming senior from the Pioneers squad to commit to a Division I program after center Rachel Blackburn committed to the University of Nebraska earlier this summer.
    Forward Tashia Jones has yet to commit, but has narrowed her choices to Kansas State, Texas Tech and Wake Forest.
    Zeck said the three seniors' national attention has provided a unique opportunity for the Pioneers' younger talent to put themselves on the map with big college programs.
    Page 2 of 2 - "With our kids, because we have some really good, talented young kids, it legitimizes their work and their talent level," Zeck said. "Because now they're starting to get some of the looks that maybe they might not have gotten because of all the schools that came through our program last fall and spring."

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