Michala and Malayna Johnson are not your typical college sisters. The two have been pillars of the Wisconsin women’s basketball program for the last three seasons and have been integral parts of head coach Bobbie Kelsey’s rebuilding process.
Though they both play on the same team, their journeys to Madison could not have been more different.
Malayna Johnson was the under-the-radar recruit. A late bloomer in the basketball world, the 6-foot-4 junior from Illinois, not wanting to be in her sister’s shadow, did not play basketball at an early age and only started once she felt comfortable in her own skin.
“When I was younger, I didn’t want to play at all because I didn’t want to be like Michala,” Malayna said. “I didn’t want people to think ‘they are the same, they are twins.’ I just wanted to be my own individual.”
After stepping out of her sister’s shadow she committed to the Badgers.
Michala, the older sister and current sixth-year senior for the Badgers, was a top-rated recruit and after playing her first two seasons at UConn, a desire for more playing time lead her to return to the Midwest. Though the opportunity to play with her sister for the Badgers intrigued her, she had to verify she was not overstepping any boundaries.
“I wanted a fresh start and to be closer to home,” Michala said. “My sister ended up signing here and I asked if I could play with her. I told her this could be your school and I could go somewhere else but [Malayna] said ‘no come play with me’ and my family was okay with it and wanted us to play together.”
The two sisters took the court together during the 2013-14 season that saw Michala lead the team in scoring while Malayna was relegated to the bench in a crowded front court.
Malayna, determined to use her sophomore season as an opportunity to finally team up with her sister and create a dynamic duo, was unable to step out of her sister’s shadow when tragedy struck.
Six games into the 2014-15 season, Michala suffered her third ACL injury. Now with a hole to fill in the middle, the team counted on Malayna for big minutes and she was a key contributor for last year’s Wisconsin team.
After finishing a grueling recovery process and receiving a sixth-year of eligibility, Michala was ready to join her sister in an on-court family reunion.
But yet another issue arose, and as fate would have it. Malayna tore her ACL late last September as the team was preparing to start this season.
“My sister has been with me since day one,” Michala said. “She has seen it all and seen me go through it and come back. Now that she is hurt, it’s different. This is her first injury. So I’ve been there for her, I’ve been helping her through the whole process because I know she helped me.”
Once again, due to injury, the sisters were unable to compete on the court. But despite her injury the two have used their adversity to push each other during the recovery process.
The two use their sisterly-bond to overcome the obstacles they’ve faced.
“She always tells me to just take it one day at a time,” Malayna added. “Think about how far I have come since the surgery. She has been a really big help and has been motivating me every step of the way.”
Head coach Bobbie Kelsey knows how difficult it has been for the sisters the past two seasons.
“It is sad because you want to see them play together for a full year,” Kelsey said. “They can feed off one another and both do some things that we really need. It is unfortunate that they didn’t get to play with each other on the court.”
As this season comes to a close and perhaps the final opportunity to play with each other passes, Malayna said she feels there may be an opportunity in the future to finally team up on the court with her big sister.
This past summer, Michala received a pleasant surprise when she was notified she had been drafted to the WNBA.
Now with her big sister off to the pros, Malayna has a clear goal in mind.
“I would love to go to the WNBA,” Malayna said. “It wasn’t something I really thought about until Michala got drafted, but it is very exciting now because I just want to follow in her footsteps.”
Though she originally did everything to avoid her sister’s shadow, Badger fans everywhere should be rooting for the two to one day reunite on the court.