AJ keeps producing hair-raising displays
BASKETBALL: Women's national league bound Ipswich player Amanda "AJ'' Johnson started dying her hair different colours to be noticed.
She has been, in a massive way.
Regularly being Ipswich's top point scorer in this year's Queensland Basketball League competition attracted the attention she wanted rebuilding her career.
The Sydney Uni Flames WNBL franchise recently offered her a spot on their roster for the new season starting in October.
"I came over here really to just play, kind of see where I'm at and have some fun,'' she said. "And I got out there and feel really good.''
She's keen to see where that takes her in the future.
As an allrounder with a wonderful team spirit, AJ welcomed the chance to complete her state league season with Ipswich and stay longer in Australia.
"I love it here,'' the American said after again leading the way in Ipswich's latest victory.
"The team especially has been wonderful in Ipswich, particularly the club and everybody here.''
The Force women took their season tally to 11 wins and just two losses after outclassing the Gold Coast Rollers 90-48 at Llewellyn Stadium on Saturday night.
With 22 points, AJ didn't have one of her highest scoring matches. However, she was as influential as ever, scoring regularly and making key defensive plays when needed.
Dependable teammate Georgia Williams provided valuable assistance in offence, nailing 20 points including four three-pointers.
Williams continues to grow as a player that can be counted on to inject a spark, even when Force are in complete control.
Meanwhile, AJ appreciated her national league opportunity, launched in Ipswich after she rediscovered her passion for the game. She walked away from basketball in 2014 due to personal issues before being invited to join the Force.
"Recovering at 28 is a little bit different than recovering at 20,'' she said. "And just some of the mental stuff, decision-making and things like that, but overall I feel like I really got back into my flow and I've been feeling really good.''
The personable Californian said a settled Ipswich team environment helped her regain her direction after some troubled times.
"We're clicking,'' AJ said.
"Every time we get a challenge, we're growing as a collective unit. The girls here want to win and want to compete and there's a really good culture on our team so I'm really grateful to play with them as well.''
With WNBL pre-season starting in early September, she won't have a chance to return home.
"I'm okay with that,'' she said, managing homesickness by keeping in touch with her family and friends on the internet.
"They have got the boat on the water and I see what they are posting on Instagram and there's a little bit of longing and you want to go with them.''
However, she's enjoying cafes by the water in Brisbane and recently visited Gold Coast and Byron Bay.
"Hopefully I get a reef trip up here before I head down to Sydney,'' she said.
Force were never headed on Saturday night after building a 27-16 first half lead that jumped to 49-29 by the main break.
In the third quarter, Force extended their advantage to twice that of Gold Coast, 82-41.
In the game that followed, the Ipswich men boosted their win tally to five from 13 games after surviving a thriller against Gold Coast.
Force vice-captain Kyle Harvey made the last gasp two-point lay up basket to secure his team an 80-79 victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Harvey's commitment was highlighted during his warm-up. He moved around on his own in the dark side of the stadium shooting and dribbling while the women's game was being played.
The Ipswich men's win completed another deserved double for the Force teams after last weekend upstaging Gladstone on the road.
Harvey top scored with 20 points, well supported by captain Jason Ralph with 19.
Harvey and AJ regularly work with young players at Ipswich clinics as part of their commitment to the association.
And as for her hair that's changed colour a number of times, AJ said it was a terrific way to express her confidence and freedom.
"I just like it,'' she said.
"I've spent a lot of my life for whatever reason kind of ignoring attention and trying to be invisible.
"I got to a point in my life where I decided to show up and be loud . . . and this is one of the ways myself, not anybody else, that I get to do that.
"I get to be whoever I am and show that I deserve that.''
Everyone who works around AJ recognises that because she's such a valuable addition to this year's Ipswich program.
QBL men: Ipswich Force 80 (Kyle Harvey 20, Jason Ralph 19) def Gold Coast Rollers 79 at Llewellyn Stadium.
QBL women: Ipswich Force 90 (Amanda Johnson 22, Georgia Williams 20) def Gold Coast Rollers 48.
Next matches: Sunday - Ipswich Force v North Gold Coast Seahawks at Llewellyn Stadium.