Kaitlyn Johnson has been playing basketball for as long as she can remember.
She attributes most of her passion she developed for the game over the years to her dad and coach, Jason.
“My dad put a basketball in my hands when I was probably five or six years old,” Johnson said. “He has been by my side the entire way, as has my mom and my brother but if anyone has cleared a path for me, it would have to be my dad.”
It’s true. Her dad has been with her every step of the way. From when she first started in kindergarten to her last game in high school.
Kaitlyn is a senior at Van Buren High School and holds the school record for most three-pointers made with 174. She recently scored her 1,000th point this season and became the 10th girl to hit that mark. She also set a new record with the most three-pointers made in one season with 74, breaking broke her own record of 63 when she was a sophomore.
However, the road for her wasn’t always paved with yellow brick. She had to find herself along the way, but basketball was always there for her.
“Basketball was the thing I turned to when I was going through a tough time,” she said. “I could always count on basketball to get me through anything and, most times, it did. That’s part of the reason why I love the game.”
As a freshman at Mt. Pleasant, Johnson suited up for the freshman, junior varsity, and varsity teams. Amidst all of that, she had trouble finding herself. After a few minor run-ins with the head coach, she felt like quitting.
“The head coach and I just didn’t get along,” Johnson said. “We weren’t on the same page, my playing time was sporadic, and I didn’t know where I fit into the equation. I was extremely frustrated and, being as hard on myself as I am, I had a lot of trouble with it.”
Johnson had two choices: stick it out in Mt. Pleasant and see if things could work out or transfer.
She decided a fresh start was needed and Van Buren was the beneficiary of her services for three years.
As a sophomore and a newcomer, Johnson experienced one of her most exciting moments to date.
“I really loved playing with the girls my sophomore season,” Johnson said. “Everyone got along, we were very successful and everyone was so welcoming. It’s definitely something I’ll never forget.”
The Warriors went 17-6 her sophomore season and Johnson was a key cog in the team’s success. She averaged 11.5 points per game and broke the school record for most three-pointers in a season with 63 treys.
She was also introduced to a new role: point guard.
“I’ve played shooting guard my whole life, until I got to Van Buren,” Johnson said. “The coach put me at the point, which was an entirely new experience for me, but I really enjoyed it.”
The other part of why she loves basketball is rather simple. She enjoys it.
“I don’t view basketball as a job or a chore, like something I have to do, like other kids might,” Johnson said. “Over the years, I have learned to love the game, so I view it nothing more than something I love to do.”
While her team took a step back during her junior year, Johnson kept her nose to the grindstone. Two to three days a week in 45-minute to two-hour sessions, whether it was with former Hawkeye point guard Jason Price or by herself, Johnson kept working to get better.
She describes herself as a “perfectionist” and is never truly satisfied with anything she does. That probably explains why she bumped her scoring average to nearly 15 points per game (14.8 to be perfect) and her rebounds per game from 1.9 to 4.0.
People were impressed, but Johnson wasn’t. She put in even more hours this past summer because she realized more needed to be done. A record of 7-16 wasn’t acceptable to her and she didn’t want it to define her.
“My whole goal for this year was to be more successful,” Johnson said. “Even if it was minor improvement, it was still improvement.”
All of Johnson’s hard work, determination, and time equity paid off for her and her team as she blistered the competition this past season. Johnson averaged 20.2 points per game, 3.0 assists per game, 3.0 steals per game, and 5.7 rebounds per game.
That’s not all, though. She buried her old season three-point record of 63 makes by drilling 74 three-pointers this season. She also made an astounding 47.3 percent of her attempts and was an 84.2 percent shooter from the charity stripe.
Her team’s record improved, too. The Warriors went 10-13.
Off the court, Kaitlyn is just like any other high school kid.
“I love hanging out with friends during the summer,” Johnson said. “I love to go boating with friends, going to bonfires, and all the other small-town kid stuff. That’s what I love. That’s the stuff I want to remember.”
In the classroom, Kaitlyn is the ultimate perfectionist. She holds a 4.0 GPA and is involved with several clubs and associations in school and the community. From National Honor Society to Art Club to Student Council, Johnson has just about everything covered.
She is even working on a silver cord project.
“I’m working on a community project with art classes at the middle school,” Johnson said. “I need 60 hours to graduate with a Silver cord and I’m at 50 hours right now.”
Looks like she is well on her way to accomplishing that.
While Kaitlyn has a love for art, she views it more as a hobby than a potential major in college. She is thinking that a major in psychology is the route she would like to go once she gets on campus.
“I really do enjoy art, but I am looking at majoring in psychology because I am interested in being a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist,” Johnson said.
She can’t take credit for everything she has been able to accomplish without giving thanks two to people, though.
“My family has been the ultimate team player in my success,” Johnson said. “From driving to AAU practices in Ames three nights a week and not getting home until at least midnight to helping me through every obstacle in my life, my parents have always had my back.”
As for her life after high school, playing basketball in college is still at the top of her list.
“No question about it, I want to play basketball in college,” Johnson said.
There is a pretty good chance she plays, too. Several colleges have contacted Johnson about playing for their school. Mount Mercy, Southeastern Iowa Community College, Central, and Graceland have been actively pursuing her.
Recently, she was accepted into Cornell, one of the best small colleges in the United States, but is still undecided where she wants to go.
If she is unable to play basketball, Johnson said she plans to stay involved in the game no matter what it takes.
“I don’t care whether it’s intramurals or just shooting by myself, I want to be around the game for as long as possible,” Johnson said. “But I plan on playing.”
Basketball has taught Johnson that life is about more than scoring points. Last fall, she joined the cross-country team. While she admitted she was pretty bad, she explained how basketball told her to keep running, even when she wanted to give up.
“Being a basketball player and sprinter in track, I don’t run long distances. It’s something I’m not used to,” Johnson said. “All the basketball practices over the years taught me that I could run long distances in cross-country. I built up the mentality over the years that quitting isn’t an option and I applied it to cross-country. By the end of the year, I was really glad I did cross-country.”
In six months, Johnson will be beginning a new chapter in life and a big one at that. Her performance will shape her future, but the last three years have prepared her for the journey because she knows she won’t be alone.
“The whole community was so, so supportive of my teammates and me,” Johnson said. “The only word I can think of is ‘thanks.’ Thanks for the support, thanks for cheering, thanks for being there. I should also thank my teammates for being there and being awesome.”
When asked what her biggest fear in life is, her response was a little hesitant.
“My biggest fear is not being successful,” Johnson said. “I define success by happiness.”
It takes time, but everyone figures it out.
With her work ethic, determination and family by her side, she is slowly painting her own road yellow.
Paving it, brick by brick.