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Women's Basketball  . 

Hollywood Raven Johnson is Directing on Both Ends of the Court

by Brad Muller

Check out the Gamecock Talk podcast with Raven Johnson on Apple or Spotify

With a nickname like “Hollywood,” it was only a matter of time before the college basketball world took notice of South Carolina’s Raven Johson. After a tough start to her collegiate career, the redshirt sophomore point guard with the big smile has been a spark plug for a Gamecock squad that graduated all five starters from a team that has been to three straight NCAA Final Fours.

“I got named ‘Hollywood’ from my old AAU coach,” said Johnson, who was the Naismith National High School Player of the Year coming out of Westlake High School in Georgia in 2020. “When I was younger, I used to wear all of this glittery stuff. I was very girly. I guess I used to light the room up.”

Now she’s lighting up opponents on both ends of the floor. While she may not be a score-first point guard, she is averaging nearly ten points per game, while also handing out more than six assists per contest and averaging nearly three steals as well. Johnson is the engine that drives South Carolina’s fast break offense, and in her words, she just wants to “go, go, go!”

It wasn’t always easy for Johnson. In the second game of her freshman season, she suffered a season ending knee injury that forced her to watch from the bench as the Gamecocks went on to win the program’s second national championship in 2022.

“That year was very tough for me,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be here without my teammates, Coach (Dawn) Staley, and the staff. I wanted to quit basketball. I remember crying in my room every day. (Former teammate) Laeticia Amihere was there for me a lot, and she got me closer to God when I was going through that phase.

“My mom, my grandmother, my brother, and Coach Staley were there talking to me. My support system was there. I want to thank them. That was a rough time.”

Raven Johnson 2023-2024
“What really makes me happy is when I set up my teammates. I think about them before I think about myself.”
Raven Johnson  . 

Looking back, Johnson said going through all of that made her mentally and physically stronger, which helped take her game to another level. As a redshirt freshman last season, she earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors, coming off the bench most of the year averaging 4.2 points and 3.4 assists per game. After seeing seven teammates graduate last spring, including all five starters, Johnson has stepped in this year to take on a leadership role for the Gamecocks.

“Last year added fuel to the fire for me,” Johnson said. “That (Final Four) loss was a tough loss. A video went viral of me getting waved off (by Iowa defender Caitlin Clark). People don’t know how I was feeling behind the scenes. I was crying. Things like that make me mentally tough. This season I wanted to show everyone why I’m one of the top point guards in the nation.

“This year I’m trying to be more aggressive with my game so it can open up things for others.”

For what it’s worth, despite Iowa defenders daring her to shoot in the Final Four loss, Johnson did hit three out of six three-point attempts and finished with 13 points. She has proven she can be a dangerous scorer this year, evidenced by her career high 18 points in a win over South Dakota State, but it’s the way she fills up the stat sheet elsewhere that seems to make the most difference. In South Carolina’s win over rival Clemson, Johnson scored six points, grabbed a career high eight rebounds and had five steals while dishing out an eye-popping 17 assists, which was one shy of matching a program record. She also notched three straight games with five steals, and she is an expert in converting defense into team points on offense.

“It starts with Coach Staley,” Johnson said. “She’s the best coach in the game. If you listen to her, everything else is going to pay off. She has opened up my mindset as a point guard. I love her being my coach because I learn so much from her, not just on the court, but off the court.

“Honestly, all I’m thinking is, win. Do whatever it takes to win. When I get the ball, I’m looking to go. My teammates know to get up the floor. If I have the ball, I’m going to find a way to get it to you. I’m also glad we have (senior transfer Te-Hina) Paopao because she has taught me how to change speed, when to go fast, and when to go slow.

“What really makes me happy is when I set up my teammates. I think about them before I think about myself.”