Because of several players being involved in AAU ball and a couple others having to deal with some personal concerns, new John Curtis Christian girls basketball coach Temeka Johnson was coming up short at Wednesday’s basketball workout.
Despite being 5-foot-3, it may have been the only time Johnson came up short on a basketball court.
Told she was too small to be a point guard in the Southeastern Conference, Johnson left LSU as the school’s all-time leader in assists.
Told she was too small for the WNBA, she went on to be a first-round draft choice and led the league in assists.
So, it was nothing for Johnson to make the most out of what she had Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m a lover of the game,” said Johnson. “Whoever steps in the gym, that’s who I will work with. Right now, they’ve been very dedicated with me. They beat me to the gym, so that’s something that I’m excited about.
“You just do a lot of individual stuff and allow the kids that are here to work on their individual game. Once the others come back, we can start to work on team stuff.”
The journey to the River Ridge school represents Johnson’s life coming in full circle.
After a torn Achilles tendon ended her professional career – which spanned more than a decade with several WNBA squads and overseas teams – the well-travelled came home to Baton Rouge a year ago as the coach at McKinley High.
“Baton Rouge is home. Go Tigers, all day,” she exclaimed.
But the John Curtis job represented really, really coming home for Johnson.
“I grew up right down the street,” said Johnson. “Up until I was 12 years old, I played at Jesse Owens Playground. It’s great in that aspect to be back and be so close to family members and so many friends.”
Some of those family members and friends saw her play basketball at Bonnabel High.
“As a young kid, I just enjoyed being out there, competing against any and everybody who told me that they could beat me – the boys, the girls – it didn’t matter. I never thought basketball would have given me stellar career that I had. That’s not what I was doing it for. I was doing it because I was talented at it and I absolutely loved it,” Johnson said.
It was also at that point where the doubters showed up but she kept proving them wrong throughout her career.
“For somebody that’s too small, I obtained Rookie of the Year the first year when people said I couldn’t do it,” said Johnson, smiling as she recalled the journey. “I got a triple-double in a WNBA game. I had naysayers my entire life.
“When I had to sit out because of the ACT; I wasn’t smart enough to be at LSU. When I got to LSU, I was too small to be playing in the SEC. It was always that I was too small. It was my personality was always if you are not doing it, you can’t tell me what I can’t do.”
It was one of her family members that gave her the positive attitude to get through it all.
“My grandmother made sure that she grounded in me that I loved who I am and I’m just going to compete. The level of competition and the talent God gave me, I utilized it to the best of my ability.”
Transitioning to coaching, one of the things Johnson said she learned in her year at McKinley was patience.
“I’ve been a point guard, a coach on the floor my entire life. The difference now is making sure I put the tools in somebody else’s hands instead of being in mine. I actually appreciated and enjoyed it because it allows me to give back. That is something I am passionate about – giving back to the game and helping it to grow,” she said.
.Having experienced a bit of it all – including enduring minus-31 degree temperatures in Russia – Johnson has picked up a lot of basketball knowledge along the way
“When you go to different coaches who have different philosophies – one is an offensive-minded coach and the next one is a defensive-minded coach…I played overseas and they have the FIBA rules,” Johnson said. “You get a different realm and a different philosophy and it helped to shape and mold me, but it also helped me to expand my mind. I understand that this game is fluid and constantly changing and the kids of today are constantly growing and constantly changing and you have to be able to do different things.”
So, what is her style of play?
“I like run-and-gun, if we can have that. Defensively, I a man-to-man person but you have to be able to play to the team’s strength as well. I will figure out what it is that I have and make sure I put my team in the best possible position and give us the best opportunity to win.”