Raven Johnson is best known for being on the receiving end of Caitlin Cark’s taunting in a video that quickly went viral. Most people only knew Johnson from that video and pegged her as overwhelmed and overmatched.
When you are nicknamed “Hollywood,” you are used to a lot of attention. But the amount of attention and the nastiness of some of it caught Johnson by surprise.
“I felt like all season everybody was riding our coattails, hyping us up, but as soon as we lost we got all these hate comments,” Johnson said. “I got bashed from a viral video that went so viral. People don’t know behind the scenes how I felt and what I went through.”
Johnson has such complete command of the Gamecock offense that when she gets tripped crossing the lane, she calmly flips the basketball over to Te-Hina Paopao before she falls, and then sitting on the floor, she throws up three fingers as soon as Paopao releases the shot. Johnson doesn’t even have to look to see if the shot goes in, she knows it is one of her career-high 17 assists.
South Carolina is averaging 107.7 points per game and has the country’s most explosive offense.* Johnson leads the country in assists at 10.7 per game and pushes South Carolina’s relentless pace.
“If I’m on the floor with her, I’m running, because she’s going to find you in stride,” Dawn Staley said.
In addition to her assists, Johnson is averaging 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. She is shooting 42.3% from the floor and 33.3% from three. All are career highs.
Against Clemson, Johnson joined Courtney Vandersloot and Chelsea Gray as the only Division I players in the last 25 years to have at least five points, five rebounds, five steals, and 15 assists against a power conference opponent.
This is the Raven “Hollywood” Johnson that South Carolina signed in 2021. The “big birdie” who led her team to a national championship and was the second-ranked overall recruit and national player of the year.
Johnson tore her ACL just two games into her freshman season. She returned for all of last season, led South Carolina assists (and spectacular passes), started three games, and turned in huge games against UConn and Tennessee in the SEC tournament championship. Even against Iowa, her lowest moment, Johnson had 13 points, four rebounds, and three steals and was South Carolina’s second-leading scorer.
But she wasn’t “Hollywood.” Johnson wore a brace on her injured knee until December, and despite the rehab, was heavier than she was in high school. Also, despite it being her second season at South Carolina, she had yet to go through an off-season program.
That changed this summer. Johnson worked out in Columbia, at home in Atlanta, and played for USA Basketball in the AmeriCup Tournament. Working with her “broke best friend” Molly Binetti, South Carolina’s sports performance coach, Johnson dropped 30 pounds
Johnson was one of the few players who was able to keep up with Binetti’s arduous off-season workouts. Eventually, she dragged her teammate up to her speed.
“In the summer when we were practicing I didn’t think this team would be how it is right now,” Johnson said. “We used to run from baseline to baseline every time and we would complain. We used to talk as a team, ‘man we’ve got to do something.’ But those practices prepared us for now. It was tough, it was gritty, and it made us mentally tough.”
The old Hollywood is back. The quick dribble, the pinpoint passes, the steals, and the relentless fast breaks, they are all back. She hasn’t had a viral moment – MiLaysia Fulwiley has taken care of those – but she’s had enough of being viral after her experience in April.
“I think that put fuel to the fire and I say this is a revenge season,” Johnson said. “I’ve got something for everybody, every team, that comes up. I think that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I think God does things for a reason and maybe I needed that. But I’ll say this team is coming for a lot. It’s definitely a revenge season.”
*Jackson State is averaging 109.0 points, but has yet to play an NCAA Division I opponent.