They waged six of the most exciting battles in girls’ basketball last year, so when Prattville Christian Academy point guard Ella Jane Connell and Montgomery Academy point guard Chloe Johnson wind up on the same team, what is the result?
“Does that create double what it is?” Johnson wondered.
On Tuesday, two of the state’s most exciting floor leaders will be on the same team, leading the South all-stars in the annual Alabama All-Star Sports Week game at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl.
“I think it’s super great and honorable just to be picked for that,” Johnson said. “I love playing around people that have such a passion for the game and have the same love and effort for the game, so I think it’s going to be awesome.”
Strangely enough, Johnson and Connell are fierce competitors playing the same position at area rivals but have never had the opportunity to meet anywhere other than on the court for a high school game.
“I really haven’t had a chance to talk to her,” Chloe said. “We’re always playing against each other and I don’t really have the time to talk to her.”
“I haven’t really talked to her at all,” Ella Jane said. “I’ve just seen her in the six times we’ve played her. I’m really excited both of us have this awesome opportunity and I’m excited to play with her because she’s really, really good and a great facilitator on the court and shooter and driver.”
Among those six battles for state supremacy -- the winner of the final game, as expected, went on to win the 3A state championship -- were three one-point victories, two by Montgomery Academy and the final by Prattville Christian.
The first game was decided on a pair of Gabby Ramirez free throws with six-tenths of a second remaining and the next five were just as intense, especially between two of the state’s premier point guards.
“She’s a great driver,” Chloe said. “She gets to the basket most of the time and she obviously can finish at the basket well. She’s hard to defend. That’s all you want in a point guard and as a player. It’s honestly just effort as a defender because you don’t know what she’s going to do.”
“In the Elite Eight game, I was actually put on her for a good majority of the game,” Ella Jane said. “She pulled up in my face for some 3s. She’s a great shooter. You really have to watch for her passes because she does no-look passes all the time and just drops dimes.”
PCA coach Jason Roberson, who wouldn’t dream of missing Tuesday’s game, pointed out that both players are unselfish but have basketball skills that should be easy to see in such a high-profile game.
“They are team-first players and sometimes you have to remind players that are that good that the best thing for your team is when you’re open and you have an opportunity one-on-one is to be aggressive and make a play for your team,” Roberson said. “That means making a play yourself sometimes.
“Ella Jane and Chloe and both winners. They’ll both do what it takes to make their team successful and I think they’ll make the right plays.”
More than half of the players on each team (eight of 15) are in 6A and 7A, which often creates a faster game that causes players from lower classifications to struggle to keep pace. That won’t be the case with Johnson and Connell, Roberson predicted.
“They’ll be some players on that floor that can beat those two players in a sprint, they’ll be some players on the floor with a faster 40 time, but when it comes to the game of basketball, because those two can handle the ball at a ‘next’ level, they should be fine,” he said. “I would be surprised if they aren’t able to play. They’ve seen the speed, the quickness, the athleticism.
“They’ll be some extremely athletic girls on the court but because of the way (Johnson and Connell) handle the ball and the way they see the floor and because of their high IQ, they’ll be fine.”
Either Johnson or Connell could take over a game with their scoring and their basketball ability, but it isn’t their style. In fact, they may have to talk each other into taking a shot.
“I love passing the ball, that’s my thing,” Chloe said. “If we’re not scoring, I’ll look at her and tell her, ‘you need to go get a bucket.’”
“I think we’ll both play our roles and that’s one of our strengths, getting the ball where it needs to be,” Ella Jane said. “I think either of us, given the opportunity for a shot, should definitely take it.”
Since breaking into the starting lineup three years ago, Connell has often been the best scorer on the floor but wasn’t good at finishing plays at the basket (or the foul line), a trait she developed as she gained experience and one that elicits admiration from Johnson.
“I definitely admire some of the things she does,” Chloe said. “She’s so versatile. I guess I could say I’m a little versatile too, but she’s so versatile, she finishes great. I admire the way she can get to the basket and pull up (for a shot). Something like that is so admirable.”
Johnson, meanwhile, elevated her game on the defensive end, adding to a repertoire that already included incredible ball-handling skills and 3-point accuracy. Now at her third school, she earned most valuable player honors in the state tournament for Tuscaloosa Academy as a sixth grader and Alabama Independent School Association player of the year honors at Lee-Scott Academy in 2020 after winning another state championship.
While at Lee-Scott, she became an adept defender and rebounder in the post, a talent Johnson brought to Montgomery Academy last year.
“When I was at Lee-Scott, our team was really small and one of our best defenders was our ‘four,’ sort of like Leighton (Robertson last season),” she said. “She guarded the best player on the team and I was the second tallest player on the team and I just had to guard the post players. I started learning and kind of getting good at it. Then I came here (to MA) and they really taught me how to play post defense.”
She likely won’t be guarding any post players on Tuesday, but both Johnson and Connell bring a bag full of tools to any game and this game is likely to attract plenty of attention from college recruiters looking at the state’s top juniors that play for 6A and 7A programs.
“It’s super awesome for me because (players from larger basketball programs) are bringing those coaches, those people that are watching them, so I think it’s a great opportunity,” Chloe said. “I’m just going to try to go out there and do what I do and maybe I’ll get seen and somebody will see something that they like.”
“I’m really just looking to make the right play every time,” Ella Jane said. “If somebody’s open, get it to them and if I have my shot, just take it. Try to make the right play for our team.”
In the end, both players hope to block out the recruiting buzz, turn off the spotlight and just do what they’ve been doing the last few years.
“I just think it’s playing the game of basketball and just having fun,” Johnson said. “I think having fun is the biggest thing about this.”
ALABAMA ALL-STAR SPORTS WEEK
Boys golf, 10 a.m., Arrowhead Country Club
Girls golf, 10 a.m., Arrowhead Country Club
Baseball, 4 p.m., Riverwalk Stadium
Boys tennis, 5 p.m., Lagoon Park Tennis Center
Girls tennis, 5 p.m., Lagoon Park Tennis Center
Girls basketball, 5 p.m., Multiplex at Cramton Bowl
Boys basketball, 6:45 p.m., Multiplex at Cramton Bowl
Softball, 4 p.m., Lagoon Park Softball Complex
Girls soccer, 5 p.m., Emory Folmar Soccer Complex
Girls cross country, 5:30 p.m., Gateway Park
Boys cross country, 6 p.m., Gateway Park
Boys soccer, 7 p.m., Emory Folmar Soccer Complex
Volleyball, 4 p.m., Multiplex at Cramton Bowl