EXCITED NEWCOMER: Ipswich Force American import Amanda
EXCITED NEWCOMER: Ipswich Force American import Amanda "AJ" Johnson is ready to play a vital role in this year's QBL Women's competition. Rob Williams

Meet the American playing a vital role in state league

AMERICAN import Amanda "AJ” Johnson already has a strong bond with the Ipswich captain, has tasted the Aussie slang and completed a masters degree.

But after an extended break from basketball, the Californian born and raised forward has a new sense of purpose.

"Stepping away from it for a while and coming back to it, it's so fun again,'' Johnson, 28, said.

"I guess I play for the joy of it and I'm also a competitor so there's that aspect of it that's been really exciting again.

"And just the mental toughness that it requires, putting it in with the physical work outside the game competition.''

Like her new Ipswich teammates, AJ is preparing for Force's opening game of the Queensland Basketball League Women's season against Cairns at Llewellyn Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Having only arrived a week ago, she's excited about joining Force captain Bree Farley and the promising young side uniting in this year's state league.

"All the girls have been completely welcoming,'' the American recruit said.

AJ and Farley connected through the University of Oregon in February, during the QBL Women's off-season.

"It's just this wonderful synchronicity how it happened,'' AJ said.

Having committed to playing basketball again after a break, Johnson was impressed to receive a text from Farley, letting her know about Force's search for a valuable import.

"I said absolutely and we just kind of communicated back and forth.''

Coach Brad George was happy to give Johnson an opportunity.

Johnson was completing her masters program at the University when she decided to revitalise her basketball career.

"I kind of found my way back into coaching within the gym and there was this moment where I was like 'I'm not done','' she said.

"If I can make this happen again, that was my intention.

"Bree kind of met me there and put in a word that I was really ready to get back on the court.''

Despite only arriving in Ipswich a week ago, AJ said she'd settled in really well.

"I love it. It's beautiful here,'' she said, making her first trip to Australia.

When asked about the Aussie language, the personable basketballer smiled.

"The slang is so funny,'' she said. "My roommate and I have this running list and I've founded everything that comes out of her mouth and I'm like 'I have no idea what that means'.

"So lots of differences in the way we talk.''

Although slotting into a new combination, AJ was clearly made welcome at Force's training session yesterday at Booval.

AJ grew up in Californian wine country, gaining a love of the game from her parents Erik and Lisa.

"It's been a huge part of our family life. I've been playing since I was six years old,'' she said.

"It's been a vehicle for collegiate and some overseas experience.''

That included being drafted into the third round of 2012 Women's NBA by the Phoenix Mercury.

She last played in Switzerland before returning to the game through coaching.

Her major college success was with the University of Oregon.

While keen to play in the QBL Women's competition, she checked out what was on offer first.

"I wanted it to be a good fit for me coming back and I wanted it to be a good fit for the team,'' she said. "And make sure that I was going to be able to perform at the level that was expected of me and be able to compete adequately in the competition of the league.''

The Force women's coach said Johnson's arrival had been positive for a largely youthful side preparing to launch the new season.

"She's come in wanting to meet the girls and talk to them so she's been very good,'' George said.

The Force women face Cairns in their season-opener at 5pm on Saturday.

The new-look Force men play the following game in Ipswich at 7pm.

How the Ipswich Force women shape up

Last season: 10 wins, seven losses (6th ladder). Lost quarter-final by four points.

Coach: Brad George. Captain: Bree Farley.

Ins: Amanda Johnson (USA, California), Gintare Mazionyte (Lithuania), Catherine MacGregor (Ipswich junior), Cassandra Eckert (returning), Emily Tahata (SWM), Telesia Manumaleuga (SWM), Sigourney Thompson (Townsville).

Outs: Marney George (coaching), Ashton Eton (family responsibilities), Biancia Abbott (Sunshine Coast for work), Aimee Durbidge (Gold Coast for work), Lauren O'Sullivan (weightlifting), Allana Gerhardt (injury), Markel Walker (USA), Shenita Landry (USA).

Main players: Amanda Johnson joins the Force after a couple years off completing her masters degree. She suits up for Ipswich, following a two-year stint in Europe where she was League MVP. Johnson was also a college standout at Oregon University where she was a top 10 All-Time in six categories. Her work ethic and ability was rewarded, being drafted to the WNBA by the Phoenix Mercury.

Gintare Mazionyte joins Ipswich on the back of a European season in Sweden Pro League where she averaged a Double/Double 12.8 points, 10.6 rebounds a game. Maziontye spent two years at Texas State University before returning home to Lithuania where she has been a national team squad member since 2007.

Last word: Exciting season ahead for a very young group in 2018. Coach Brad George is expecting Ipswich juniors Kate Head, Iris Cubit, Brooklyn Betham, Cassie Poulain, Catherine MacGregor and Loie Webb to step up and relish the opportunities this year. Although also still young, Georgia Williams and Rachel Mate will play extremely important leadership roles this season alongside Bree Farley, Amanda Johnson and Gintare Mazionyte. This group's ability to stretch the floor and attack the basket will show an exciting brand of basketball in 2018.



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