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Sanyiah Littlejohn's moment finally arriving

05/22/2024, 9:00am EDT
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — It looks so effortless for Sanyiah Littlejohn; like she is not moving. Then you notice the Lansdale Catholic 5-foot-9 rising senior guard running by everyone on the court. Blink, and she is weaving her way by a maze of defenders with outstretched arms down the middle of the lane for a layup. She moves with such a silky alacrity that it seems everyone around her is suspended in time, a rare ability special athletes have.

Sanyiah Littlejohn (above) is playing with Books & Basketball's 17s this summer. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)

Littlejohn, 17, is a three-year starter for the Crusaders, who played a vital role as a sophomore in Lansdale Catholic’s 2023 trifecta in winning the Philadelphia Catholic League, District 12 and PIAA Class 6A state championships.

Gabby Casey, now entering her sophomore year at St. Joe’s, was the go-to star of the Crusaders’ 2023 team and had help from Jaida Helm (Harcum College). Next season’s Crusaders will feature 6-2 rising senior Grace McDonough, along with 5-8 rising senior guard Nadia Yemola (Kutztown offer).

But Lansdale Catholic will go as Littlejohn goes. She is a pass-first, facilitating point guard who learned the game on the playground against boys.

So far, Littlejohn has received offers from Charleston, George Mason, LIU, Fordham, UMBC, Monmouth and Massachusetts, the last two of which became her latest offers earlier this week. She had an offer from Ashley Langford when she was at Stony Brook, before Langford accepted the job in April to become the head coach at her alma mater Tulane.

This summer, Littlejohn is looking to increase her college exposure and she got to a great start at the Atlantic City Showcase for the Books & Basketball GUAA team at the Atlantic City Convention Center on Friday. Against SLAAM P24, Littlejohn scored six points on three-for-four shooting, had seven assists, three steals and three rebounds.

In other words, a typical Littlejohn game, doing a little of everything to enable her team to win.

She plays with audacity that stems from her youth.

“That comes from playing against boys since I was six,” she said. “I did not really get introduced to playing organized basketball against girls until I was in seventh grade. I was a tomboy playing against the boys. There were a few times when they would not let me play, of course. I was a girl. I had to deal with a little of that. I had to earn the right to play against the boys. It is a more physical, faster game. I was knocked down.”

And she would get back up.

She has always been a pass-first point guard, sometimes to her detriment when he comes to shooting the ball. With Casey graduated, Littlejohn actually shot less her junior year than she did as a sophomore. The Crusaders reinvented themselves last season, looking to pound the ball inside to McDonough, according to Lansdale Catholic coach Eric Gidney. Sometimes, that tended to congest the lane, so Littlejohn, who thrives on getting to the rim, had limited room in which to work.

“There were new pieces and new elements of who were as a team last year, but this year, especially with this being Sanyiah’s senior year, I really do expect the spotlight of who we are offensively and defensively to be on her,” Gidney said. “It is not frustrating as much as it is surprising Sanyiah is not getting more college looks. George Mason and Charleston are very good opportunities, but she may be a victim of the transfer portal. Coaches want to grab experienced point guards.

“What always impressed me about her is there are so many ways she can help a team win,” he added. “As dynamic as she is, she is a really good floor general. She would rather have eight, nine, 10 assists. This is going to be a really fun senior year for Sanyiah.”

Littlejohn during her junior year at Lansdale Catholic. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Last season, Littlejohn worked well with McDonough on the pick-and-roll, and in the Atlantic City Showcase, she worked exceptionally well with her Books & Basketball GUAA teammate Aidan Langley, Westtown’s 6-1 center, on that set play.

“But I have to shoot the ball more my senior year, and I have to be more aggressive with the ball,” Littlejohn admitted. “I would not say there is war going on in my head about shooting or not. It is a battle of consciousness, because if I drive the ball and the defense comes to me, there will be someone open for me to get them the ball.

“It is always the way I played. When I was young, it was the same way. I passed to the boys, because they were the ones who shot. My dad gets on me about shooting more. I know I can score. I just do not do it. I pride myself on getting everyone involved and playing defense.”

Littlejohn knows she has optional gears she could hit athletically. She is often the fastest player on the court. She had to slow down a few times over the weekend for her teammates to catch up.

“I am patient and I believe in timing, this is a big summer for me,” she said. “This is my last year of AAU. I did not pick my first college offer until last summer. I was expecting my first offers before that. It could be frustrating. I am hopeful I can get a Power 5 offer. And that is frustrating, because of the transfer portal.

“I hope I can help myself this summer.”

Littlejohn said she needs to add some muscle to her lanky frame. Until recently, she has never been on a consistent weight training program. She also wants to be more aggressive off screens, improve her shot, and shoot more confidently.

Neumann-Goretti Hall of Fame coach Andrea Peterson coached Littlejohn last summer for the AAU Philadelphia Belles. She also has the misfortune of facing Littlejohn again in the Philadelphia Catholic League this coming season.

“Sanyiah is special,” Peterson said. “I love her game. She could score at will, but she gets everyone involved. As a coach, you have to love her game. As an opposing coach, she gives you a lot of headaches, not only with her speed, but with her size, being long. She can get to the basket and she gets everyone involved.”

Littlejohn is looking to stir more interest this summer and approaching fall, and with her boosted looks, her Lansdale Catholic teammates will get more looks.

“Sometimes I lack confidence shooting, and that is the mental thing that I can get carried away with,” she said. “I know I am capable of scoring, and it is something my coaches tell me about all the time.”

It’s time to do it.

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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