ARLEE — Arlee senior Lane Johnson was in for a major change when he moved from being a lock-down defender to being the point guard for the two-time defending State C boys basketball champions in the offseason.
Then the all-state player went down with an injury in the season opener and missed the first two months of the season, forcing Arlee to scrap its plan for the time being
“That (injury) taught me a lot about being patient. Being patient in my offense, patient with the whole process,” Johnson said after Arlee’s 72-27 win over Noxon on Friday, its second of five games in an eight-day stretch.
Johnson returned in early January, and his ability to quickly learn and lead the uptempo offense has been a boon for the already loaded Warriors, who are sitting at 14-1 overall and 10-0 in Western 14-C play.
“It’s been a cool move because he’s so strong,” Arlee head coach Zanen Pitts said. “He sees the court so well. He’s tough because he can pass. He can make a chest pass full court. It changes the game when you have a kid who can do stuff like that. His confidence is big time.”
Johnson’s playmaking ability has been a new addition to his game this year. In the past, he didn’t have to set up players or score, focusing on scrapping for loose balls and rebounds, things he still gladly does on the court.
With the ball in his hands this year, his biggest challenge was looking to pass more instead of shooting, something he didn’t get to do a lot of last year with Philip Malatare and Will Mesteth.
“I thought it was a big change, but I’ve always liked facilitating,” Johnson said of the move. “I think it was a good move for me because I like dribbling, I like passing to my teammates and telling them where to go and setting everybody up. It’s fun.”
The Warriors are 8-0 since Johnson returned and have scored 80 or more points five times, something they didn't do even once during his absence. They reached 91 points on Saturday against St. Regis and 100 on Thursday against St. Ignatius.
Pitts saw some potential out of Johnson to be the main ball handler, but the senior has impressed him with how the role has come to him in a short period of time. He said that’s largely because of Johnson’s vision.
“The biggest thing for him is the extra pass. It makes him scary,” Pitts said. “Everyone’s come to expect the extra pass, but if they shift on him, he’s got a great set shot.”
In his role as the point guard, Johnson doesn’t have to be the main scoring threat for the Warriors. He doesn’t even have to be the second or third option with teammates like Greg Whitesell, Isaac Fisher and others.
But with the Warriors in an early deficit against Noxon on Friday, Johnson provided the spark for the Warriors, scoring five consecutive points to start a 14-0 run. He finished with 17 points, tied for the team high, in addition to adding a team-best three assists despite only playing the first three quarters.
“I just try to give us a boost however I can,” Johnson said. “We started out slow, so I tried to give us a boost. As the game came along, I started looking for my teammates more and calling plays.”
Johnson moved to point guard because of the desire to have Whitesell, the former point guard, play shooting guard in order to best use his spot-up shooting. Whitesell has become a main scorer for Arlee and dropped 16 points against Noxon.
Fisher, a 6-foot-9 senior, has also become a go-to scorer in the lane. Against Noxon, he displayed an up-and-under, turnaround jumper for the first time. It was something he’s been working on recently, and it led to two baskets and a foul the third time as he scored seven consecutive points to stretch Arlee’s lead to 62-20 in the third quarter.
“Isaac kind of became a man there for a while,” Pitts said. “That was impressive. Those were tough, honest moves. That was scary.”
Fisher, who’s taken on a larger scoring role this season, has noticed a difference in the team’s play with Johnson back in action. Whether that’s better rebounding, screens or knocking down open shots, Johnson’s addition appears to be making a top-tier team even better.
“We’re definitely starting to get that flow and momentum working with our team chemistry,” Fisher said. “We’re starting to get those open shots. We’re coming along slowly. We haven’t peaked yet. We’re still trying to get to the top.”
Scarlets 61, Noxon 22
Arlee bounced back from a loss to Class B St. Ignatius on Thursday with a 61-22 win over Noxon on Friday to improve to 11-4 overall and 10-0 in Western 14-C play.
Arlee senior Alyssia Vanderburg scored a game-high 17 points. Teammates Nellie Desjarlais and Louetta Conko-Camel added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“They worked really hard as a team today,” Arlee head coach Missy Tiensvold said. “They limited their turnovers and scored in transition, which makes it a lot easier. Mission is always a hard game. It’s always a rival, whether they’re in the conference or not. It’s always a fight. We came back today, we’ve got a couple more games and hopefully they go our way.”
The Scarlets, tangled in an early 4-4 tie, closed the first half on a 31-6 run to take a 35-10 lead into the break. They outscored Noxon 20-5 in the third quarter before emptying their bench as they played their second of five games in an eight-day stretch.
“It makes it tough to know that you have those games in so few days,” Tiensvold said. “You try to save the legs and play hard. I think we did that.”