24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Morgan Johnson

Nov. 1, 2012

Worth Watching: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch video with M. Johnson

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2012-13 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Morgan Johnson’s accomplishments on basketball courts across the country have been a blessing to University of Iowa fans for three years. The senior intends to continue her supremacy for the Hawkeyes this season, and then she wants to take her blessings outside the United States’ border.

Johnson is majoring in pre-medicine. While many women’s basketball players travel overseas to keep their careers alive when college ends, Johnson wants to capitalize on her academic background and Christian faith to make a difference in a developing country.

“I have always felt so blessed in my life,” Johnson said. “I am not content to staying here and being blessed. I want to be a blessing to others. To know there are people out there struggling, especially the innocence of kids that don’t have the opportunity to leave their situation. They have never seen anything besides poverty, disease and plague. That is sad; God has given me a heart for that. I want to go out and feed them with His word and help them establish outside their norm.”

Twice Johnson has taken the Medical College Admission Test. “I didn’t do so hot,” she admits. “No harm, no foul.”

But that is more a byproduct of attempting to graduate in four years and playing in one of the toughest basketball conferences in the nation.

“It would be an awesome opportunity to volunteer overseas for a year,” Johnson said. “To come back and re-apply the next year wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for me.”

There is plenty left to accomplish for the Hawkeyes. Johnson is one of three seniors who have known nothing but postseason NCAA runs. If Iowa secures a sixth consecutive NCAA berth, the first two rounds will be in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 24 and 26. Since 2007, when Iowa’s postseason string began, the Hawkeyes have won 21, 21, 20, 22 and 19 games.

“Under (head coach Lisa) Bluder we have done a lot of awesome things,” Johnson said. “The continuous appearances in the NCAA Tournament, never knowing what it is like to not be there; it’s an honor to be part of a growing dynasty of women’s basketball players that are committed to excellence and going 100 percent all of the time.”

Ironically, it is Johnson who will not be allowed to go 100 percent all the time this season. She has severe patellar tendonitis, meaning a lot of knee pain, not-so-much cure, and ice baths after every practice. She will limit repetitions in practice, and spend more time sitting on the sidelines and cheer-leading.

While her knees continue their roller coaster ride of feeling great one day and terrible the next, Johnson’s production remains consistent. As a junior she was second to Jaime Printy among Hawkeyes with a 14.9 scoring average in 31 games. Johnson was second on the team with 6.6 rebounds a game (including a team-high 138 defensive rebounds); her 54.9 field goal percentage led all players in the Big Ten Conference and was seventh in the NCAA.

“I think Morgan Johnson is one of the best centers in the United States,” Bluder said. “I love coaching a kid that comes to practice every day with that much enthusiasm and positive attitude. She has a love for the game and love for life.”

But the statistical category that defines Johnson most is blocked shots. She is 10 blocked shots from tying the school career record of 235 by Tangela Smith from 1994-98. She is 40 blocked shots from tying the 265 Leslie Daberkow compiled from 1981-85 at Midland Lutheran College in Nebraska. Leslie is Morgan’s mother.

“The blocked shot record means more to me than people know,” Johnson said. “My mother played basketball at a small NAIA college. She still holds the blocked shot record there. I always wanted to break that record. That record, as a family history type of thing, is a little rivalry between me and my mom, and I love it. It makes me smile.”

Johnson holds Hawkeye marks with eight blocked shots in a game and 79 during the 2009-10 season. The main thing slowing her down is fouls. Johnson was whistled 96 times as a junior (an average of 3.1 per game), with four disqualifications.

Johnson ranked 26th in the nation last season with 2.25 blocks per game; an impressive total since Bluder does not stress blocked shots in the first half because of potential foul trouble.

“I don’t want her to pick up a couple fouls and put her on the bench,” Bluder said. “But blocking shots is something she is very good at; she usually goes up pretty straight, so she is smart at it, too. Morgan is good at blocking shots and keeping it in play, and the opportunity for Iowa to have it in our possession.”

Johnson’s mother isn’t the only basketball player in the family. Her younger sister, Taylor, is a sophomore at Creighton, where in her first year she averaged five points in 30 games. An ACL injury will keep Taylor from participating in the 2012-13 season — and the closed scrimmage between the Bluejays and Hawkeyes.

“There is a lot of smack-talking between me and her,” Johnson said. “It is a lot of teasing. We have a very loving relationship.”

Morgan has age and height on her side. Taylor is 5-foot-11, Morgan is 6-5.

“I have always been tall, and I love being tall,” Johnson said. “My grandma would always say, `Morgan, it is so queenly to be tall’ and I have never had a problem with it.”

Johnson also has two brothers — Spencer, a junior in high school, and Parker, a sixth-grader.

When Iowa’s season officially tips off Friday, Nov. 9, at home against Northern Illinois in the preseason WNIT, it begins a final journey for Johnson. I final opportunity at anything she has ever dreamed of in basketball. A final ride surrounded by teammates, coaches, Hawkeyes.

“That kind of emotion is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Johnson said.

And quite a blessing.