Johnson at Home with Hawkeyes

July 31, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Just one look at an old photograph told Virginia Johnson where she would play college basketball.

Johnson is an Iowa City native and grew up watching Iowa women’s basketball, attending numerous games throughout her childhood. As Johnson matured, her basketball skills took off. She received numerous offers from major Division I institutions, including the same program she watched on a regular basis.

Johnson woke up one morning during her junior year of high school and planned to attend a Hawkeye women’s game that night. She spotted a baby picture of her in a Hawkeye outfit. That sealed the deal.

“The day I made my decision, I saw a picture of me when I was a baby with a Hawkeye shirt on,” Johnson said. “I thought it was meant to be. I committed to Iowa after the game that night.”

Iowa fans are hoping Johnson has as much success in a black and gold Hawkeye uniform as she did in a red and white City High uniform.

Johnson helped lead the Little Hawks to their first ever state championship as a freshman. She knocked down the game-winning lay-up as time expired, catching a pass at midcourt before driving to the hoop and sinking a left-handed lay-up.

One of Johnson’s teammates on that City High state championship team was current Hawkeye senior Kelly Krei, who Johnson looks to for advice.

“Kelly is a really good athlete,” Johnson said. “I look up to her as a role model, both on and off the court.”

As an Iowa City native, Johnson feels the pressure to succeed at her hometown university. But Johnson uses that pressure to become a better a basketball player.

“Walking through Iowa City is cool because I know a lot of people just being from the area,” Johnson said. “The pressure is definitely there being from here, but I love the challenge. In the crucial moments, pressure is what gets you to focus and narrow in on the moment. I don’t mind the pressure because I think it helps you become a better player.”

Another challenge Johnson is embracing is switching positions. At 6-2, Johnson played primarily in the post during her high school career. She will be asked to play more on the wing, which is just fine with her.

“It’s like viewing basketball from a different angle,” Johnson said. “You learn moves that are really close to the basket as a post player. Out on the perimeter, you have more room to work with. I’ve been working on becoming more of an all-around player, rather than just one specific role.”

One role that Johnson probably shouldn’t take on is giving directions around Iowa City to her teammates. Johnson says she isn’t great at directing people around her hometown.

“I’m horrible with directions,” Johnson said. “I’ll try to give them landmarks or stoplight directions, but I’m terrible with getting people around Iowa City.”

The main reason Johnson might be bad at giving teammates a good route around Iowa City is because her view has changed after being a student on campus.

“Being a student-athlete at Iowa gave me a totally different perspective on Iowa City,” Johnson said. “I probably get lost more than the other freshmen on campus. I feel like I know where I am going, but end up getting lost.”

One place Johnson can get to without a problem is her house. She loves being close to home, which played a big part in her decision to become a Hawkeye.

“I’m a homebody,” Johnson said. “I love my family and I didn’t think I could move too far away from them. It’s great having family so close.”

It’s only been a few weeks since Johnson officially became a Hawkeye, but it’s been a busy few weeks. Summer classes, workouts and getting acquainted with being a student in Iowa City, instead of just a resident, has been a transition. Johnson always pauses to realize she is living out her dream, signaled by the baby picture she spotted on the day she committed.

“Sometimes I stop and realize that I’m actually here and this is what I’m doing,” Johnson said. “This summer has been a little overwhelming with classes and workouts. But the first day I walked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena with my teammates… that was pretty cool.”