Montini senior center Malayna Johnson had more experience doing pirouettes than she had getting into a defensive stance when she was younger.
She practiced ballet, tap and hip-hop from second to sixth grade and didn't start playing basketball until the eighth grade. She was spurred to attempt hoops after watching her older sister, Michala, lead Montini to third place in the 2008 Class 3A state tournament.
"I just didn't want to play basketball at all," Johnson said. "I couldn't imagine myself still dancing. It would look too weird now."
Johnson, who stands 6-foot-4 with a 6-10 wingspan, might be a strange sight at a dance venue now. Montini coach Jason Nichols is glad Johnson followed in her sister's footsteps, even though Malayna's journey from basketball neophyte to earning a scholarship to Wisconsin was sometimes painful to watch.
"Her basketball footwork was awful," Nichols said. "It was like watching her walk with two chains tied together. She had natural fluidness from her dance days, but she was so raw. You could see her upside because of her athletic ability."
Johnson provided an early peep of her long-range potential by scoring a team-high 14 points in the 2011 Class 3A Hoffman Estates Supersectional win over Grayslake Central.
This season, Johnson is averaging 9.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.9 blocks and is shooting 71 percent from the floor for the No. 1 Montini (29-1). Johnson clogs the middle in Montini's stifling 2-3 matchup zone, and her long legs and speed are weapons in the Broncos' transition offense.
"Malayna runs the floor better than any post player in the state," Nichols said. "She can get down the floor in four steps. She has so much potential. Her better days are ahead of her."
Johnson's rapid rise coincides with Montini's historic chase for a fourth straight Class 3A state title. Before joining her sister at Wisconsin next season, Johnson has an opportunity to put her name in the Illinois High School Association record books by playing on four consecutive state championship teams.
"It would be really special if we won again," Johnson said. "I've definitely seen an improvement in my game every season. I can definitely get better. I never would have thought I would be doing this well in basketball."
Malayna Johnson file
High school: Montini.
Numbers: 9.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.9 blocks per game.