By Nicole Skow

It was the women’s high  school basketball league  championships. The Athenian School faced its arch  nemesis Head-Royce High  School. The fans went wild as  the two teams jostled for the  lead.

Athenian’s Aja Johnson  went up for a rebound, got  hit from behind and landed  on her back with less than  a minute to go. Pain shot  through her body. She didn’t  want to keep going.

The pain  was too much. Aja Johnson  looked over at Lloyd Johnson,  her father, for some sort of  encouraging look.  “You can do it,” he said in a  whisper.  That was exactly what Aja  Johnson needed.

She got  up, knocked down her free  throws and sealed the win for  her team. Not only was Aja  Johnson ecstatic, but Lloyd  Johnson was as well.  “


I hoped she would be able  to dig down deep inside for  that greatness that we have  within us, and she did that,”  Lloyd Johnson said. “It’s  literally one of the happiest  moments of my life, not just  for me, because if you do that  once, you can it twice. If you  do it twice it can eventually  become part of a habit, and  habits become character.”

Aja Johnson and her father  share a special bond cement-  ed in hours of early morning  basketball practices. The two  have transcended the normal  father-daughter relationship.

It was actually Lloyd Johnson  who introduced his daughter  to basketball.  However, each of them will  tell a different story. Lloyd  Johnson will say that he suggested that Aja Johnson play  basketball, but Aja Johnson  will say that her father made  her choose basketball.

“I didn’t really have a  choice, honestly,” she said,  laughing. “He says that he  suggested it. I say it was more  of not necessarily a demand,  but he really urged me to do  it. I was mad at him for most  of high school, but I got over  it after a while.”

Lloyd Johnson knew Aja  Johnson was destined to play  basketball, track or soccer at  the Division I level, just based  on how she ran at three years  old. She ran on her toes, and  Lloyd Johnson explained that  running on your toes is hard  for anyone, let alone a three  year old.

High school rolled around  and so did the time for Aja  Johnson to decide what sport   to focus on. Aja Johnson first  played soccer at five years  old. It was her first love.

As  she grew older, she dreamed  of playing for Cal or other  local universities. Instead,  Lloyd Johnson pushed her to  play basketball her freshman  year and told her she would  have to choose what sport she  wanted to play.

“You cannot play basketball, volleyball and soccer  and do the kinds of things you  need to do in the classroom,”  he said to her.

Johnson followed her  father’s nudge and focused  on basketball. Opportunities arose all around her.  At one point, she had the  chance to travel to Germany  and Czechoslovakia to play  basketball for two weeks.

Johnson refused to travel at  first and told her father. He  wasn’t about to let Johnson  throw this opportunity away.  “This is an opportunity [of]  a lifetime that most people on  this planet don’t get,” he said.

“Right now you can say no,  but we are going to revisit this  issue.”

They did revisit the issue,  and she ended up traveling to  Europe. She admitted that she  had the time of her life. She  was grateful that her father  pushed her to go to Europe.  This was a common theme  throughout her high school  basketball career.

There were  times when she didn’t want to  get up at 5:45 a.m. to attend  her daily workouts with her  father. But Lloyd Johnson  wouldn’t let her go so easily.  Every five minutes he went  into her room and told her  to get up until she eventually  did.

Now she’s playing here  at Nevada and is thankful for  everything her father forced  her to do.  “Let me just say that at the  end of the day, without my  dad, I don’t think I’d be here,”  Johnson said.

“The relationship that we have, he knows  has gotten me through a lot of  hard times. To have someone  like that to keep you going, it  means the world. I’m grateful  that he made some decisions  for me, but it was the greatest  thing that could have happen.”

Fellow friend and teammate  Mimi Mungedi witnessed the  special relationship Johnson  and her father share. Two  years ago, Johnson took  Mungedi home for spring  break, and Mungedi got a  glimpse into what Johnson’s  home life was like.

“I think they have a great,  great, great relationship,”  Mungedi said. “It’s amazing  to see it because the way I  see some fathers with their  daughters, they kind of like  reject them. But (Lloyd John-  son) loves his daughter. Every  time I look at them I just smile  because it’s amazing to see it.  I really love it.”

Aja Johnson credited her father, Lloyd , for converting her from playing soccer to basketball. Photo courtesy of Nevada Media Services.

Aja Johnson credited her father, Lloyd , for converting her from playing soccer to basketball. Photo courtesy of Nevada Media Services.

Johnson and her father  stand next to each other.  Lloyd Johnson is just barely  taller than his daughter, but  it’s not the height that gives  it away that they’re related.

Their smiles are almost identical; big toothy grins that  spread from ear to ear. Each  of their eyes glazed over with  a film of tears. They each tried  to sniffle them back before  bystanders could notice.

As  she describes her and her  father’s relationship, Johnson  stares him right in the eyes  and smiles.  “I think the best part of our  relationship is that he is my  best friend,” she said. “He  is my confidant. He is my  mentor, but he’s my father.

We know when it’s time to  be father-daughter and we  know when it’s time to be best  friends. Recently, since I seem  to be growing, we seem to be  more like best friends.”

Nicole Skow can be reached at