They began playing basketball together in the seventh grade. After four years of success at Southside High School, Khrystal Ellis and Paige Johnson look forward to creating more highlights on the same team after signing with Converse College.
“We started at Beck Academy playing middle school ball,” Johnson said. “Then we played AAU, then we came to high school and now we’re going to college, so it’s really exciting.”
The 5-foot-11 Ellis was a two-time Class AAA all-state and three-time All-Peach Blossom AAA Region selection and a North-South all-star. She was first-team All-Greenville County as a senior, was chosen one of the top five seniors in the state in AAA and scored more thaan 1,000 points in her career with the Tigers.
The 5-6 Johnson was a two-time all-region selection, a second-team all-county choice as a senior and she was voted the team’s MVP and best offensive player during her career.
Both were four-year starters and members of back-to-back region championship teams under Tigers coach Lamont Wakefield.
“I wish I could frame their jerseys and put them on the wall so nobody else could wear them,” Wakefield said, “but like I told them, ‘If you play and play hard, the person who’s going to wear your jersey behind you has some big shoes to fill.’ ”
“I’m grateful and I’m humble, because I never thought that I was actually going to be able to play in college,” Ellis said. “My first year playing AAU (going into ninth grade), the coach told my mother, ‘You need to put here in another sport.’
“But the thing is, when you really have a passion for something, and you finally decide you’re going to go for it, great things like this can happen. Now that I see what I can do and I know what I can do, I”m going to do it.”
She said Wakefield’s encouragement made a big difference right away.
“When I came here, (he) showed me a whole new light,” Ellis said. “I’ve done things I never thought I could have done.”
Johnson averaged 10.7 points and 3.3 assists during her career at Southside.
“I’ve always had the dream to play college basketball, so I’ve just worked hard for it,” Johnson said, adding she looks forward to playing for Greenville native Beth Couture, who’s in her second season at Converse after becoming the winningest women’s basketball coach at Presbyterian College and then Butler University.
“When I first visited, I really liked the coach,” Johnson said. “That’s why I decided to go to Converse, and then to meet the players and walk around the campus, I just fell in love with it.”
“I’m excited to be coached by someone who has a well-known reputation,” said Ellis. “I’m excited about the program she plans to build from the ground up, something that’s new, something that’s fresh. That’s exciting.”