The earliest memories of childhood have stuck with Lee’s Summit North athletes Aiyana and Aaliyah Johnson longer than most. Separately, the two sisters recall the same moments, in nearly identical form.
The backdrop: basketball gyms across the country, with oldest sister Imani in the center of the action.
“That was the best part while I was growing up,” Aaliyah said. “"She was my idol on the basketball court. I knew right then I wanted to try to follow in her footsteps.”
Still the case.
Three years after Imani led the Lee’s Summit North girls basketball team to a second-place finish at the Missouri Class 5 state tournament, sisters Aiyana and Aaliyah are trying to match — or surpass — the feat.
They’re the top two scorers and top two rebounders for the Broncos, who are 17-0 heading into the second rotation of Suburban Gold Conference play. Aiyana, a junior, leads the team with 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Aaliyah, a senior, is at 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
“I can speak for everybody when I say we’re blessed to have not one but two wonderful players like them,” senior Jordan Jennings said. “They’re so persistent and so talented.”
It started early.
By the time Aaliyah was 6, she was on an organized basketball team, and Aiyana started the following season. Their childhoods were spent at a nearby gym.
Absent a goal at the house, they instead broke their mother’s rule by dribbling basketballs in a room the three shared.
“Any chance we got, we were bouncing the ball around, being those annoying little kids,” Aiyana said.
Imani, who now plays at Stephen F. Austin, is Lee’s Summit North’s all-time scoring leader, having amassed more than 1,600 points. During Imani’s high school career, Lee’s Summit North coach Tricia Lillygren began hearing whispers about what was next.
“I went and saw them play when Aaliyah was in eighth grade and Aiyana was in seventh grade, and then it started to make sense that we’ve got quite a family coming through,” Lillygren said.
The Broncos certainly haven’t wasted the talent.
In the middle of December, they walked onto a court as a decided underdog. On the opposing bench sat a program that had tallied 63 straight victories.
The Broncos prevented No. 64, storming back from a double-digit deficit for a 60-53 win against Bishop Miege, the 19-time state champions.
A turning point? Not quite.
That arrived much earlier in the year — a quieter, less publicized moment. In its season opener, Lee’s Summit North fell behind 20 points on the road, then came back for a two-point victory in Kearney.
Less than 24 hours into the season, Lillygren already reached a conclusion.
“We were going to be tough to beat,” Lillygren said. “I saw the way we responded when things weren’t going well, and that was as significant as any moment we’ve had this year.”
A foreshadow, as it turns out. More than 10 weeks after surviving opening night, the Broncos remain unbeaten. At the forefront of it all are the pair of sisters with a familiar name in the Lee’s Summit North athletics community.
Aaliyah went over 1,000 points for her career on Wednesday against Lee’s Summit West.
“The best part about it is that when one of them is having a bad day, the other one is there to pick it up,” Lillygren said. “They’re not both going to be on every night. But if just one of them is, we have a good chances to be sparking together.”