Success, Both On and Off the Court

Jan. 4, 2012

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.

By Aaron Blau

IOWA CITY, Iowa — By the end of her collegiate career, Morgan Johnson should have plenty of knowledge on tendonitis. Not just from suffering through it as a student-athlete, but learning about it in the classroom.

The University of Iowa women’s basketball starting center suffers from severe tendonitis in both knees and plays with pain on a regular basis. Despite the nagging injury, Johnson is having her best season in a Hawkeye uniform. She is averaging nearly 15 points and has four 20-point performances, including a career-high 37 points at Bradley.

Away from basketball, Johnson is a pre-medicine major and spends the majority of her time working toward medical school. Not an easy task for a Division I athlete.

“We have a couple players that are really challenging themselves academically and athletically,” said UI head coach Lisa Bluder. “Morgan is one of them. She has the stress of keeping her grades up as well as her basketball competition. She is competing against kids in the classroom that don’t have a 20-hour-a-week job. They aren’t traveling, they’re not missing classes. She is kind of at a competitive disadvantage in the classroom right off the bat.”

That disadvantage hasn’t slowed Johnson, in the classroom or on the court. In fact, Johnson uses it to her advantage.

“Having a tough class schedule teaches me to focus on the court,” Johnson said. “You have to take a mindset of buckling down and just getting it done in both worlds.”

“The kid works hard at everything she does. That’s what separates her. She never takes anything off, whether it’s a possession on the court or a test in the classroom.”
UI associate head coach Jan Jensen

That mindset is evident to her coaches. Johnson’s position coach, associate head coach Jan Jensen, sees it every day.

“The kid works hard at everything she does,” Jensen said. “That’s what separates her. She never takes anything off, whether it’s a possession on the court or a test in the classroom.”

Johnson’s latest test on the court has been her knees. Johnson knows what to expect from tendonitis from her medical background and Bluder admires her starting center for playing through the pain.

“I know how much pain the kid is in all the time,” Bluder said. “I admire her so much for that. Your heart aches for her when you see her cringe and you see her grabbing her knees. I can’t imagine how bad they must hurt her. If anybody deserves success, she deserves to have it.”

Success is exactly what Johnson has enjoyed this season. She credits confidence as the difference in her play, which developed during the summer when she could take a break from academics.

“I have a lot more confidence this year than I did the previous two seasons,” Johnson said. “Part of that confidence has to do with the time I had to work on my game over the summer. I only had to take one summer class, and I had a lot more time to get in the gym.”

Bluder agrees that confidence is allowing Johnson to succeed on the court.

“She’s playing with a really good level of confidence right now,” Bluder said. “I think she’s playing at a different level this year.”

While Johnson credits summer workouts for gaining confidence, Jensen believes facing stiff competition has allowed Johnson to shine.

“When you look at who Morgan has gone up against, she has faced some of the best post players in the country,” Jensen said. “She played against Jantel Lavender from Ohio State, Jayne Appel at Stanford or Kelsey Bone at Texas A&M. She has played well against the best, and now she has a great deal of confidence.”

With confidence and production comes responsibility. Johnson is willing to shoulder the extra weight.

“I wanted to be a lot better this year,” Johnson said. “I knew I had two years of starting experience, but I don’t want to be just a starter. I want to leave my mark.”

Johnson is definitely leaving her mark on the Iowa women’s basketball program, but her hope is to leave a bigger mark in someone’s life by becoming a doctor. Jensen has seen Johnson attack her basketball career and believes she has one trait that will help in her future endeavors.

“She has made herself into one of the best post players in the Big Ten,” Jensen said. “We told her the potential she had and once she started believing, she took off. She is a very inspiring person.”