Four years ago, a 5-foot-11 superstar guard from Henrietta, New York, rejected mounds of offers to chase her hoop dreams in Coral Gables, on a campus where women's basketball has always lived in the dark shadow of football and baseball and where the Hurricanes have forever struggled in a league patrolled by powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina.
But in hindsight, those tough odds are exactly what drew Shenise Johnson and high-flying teammate Riquna Williams — nicknamed Ice and Fire, respectively, for their contrasting styles of play — to the University of Miami in the first place.
"We both wanted to be pioneers. We didn't want to be another number at a UConn or a Tennessee," Johnson says of her and Williams's "gut instinct" decision to play for the U. "We were gonna come here and do something different."
As they enter their senior season, there's no denying they've succeeded.
Along with Williams and coach Katie Meier, Johnson led the team to a share of last year's regular-season ACC championship and snagged a long list of honors along the way, including ACC Player of the Year after finishing top ten in scoring, assists, and rebounding.
Last season ended with a heartbreaking, five-point loss to Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament's second round, but the core of the team has returned with high expectations. The AP's preseason poll has the Canes ranked seventh in the nation, and they're heavy favorites to win the ACC outright. Despite all the hype, Johnson isn't feeling the heat.
"Pressure comes when you're not prepared, and Katie Meier has done a good job preparing us for this moment," she says. "There's no stress."
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Johnson is as humble as she is quick on the boards. She laughs off the (very reasonable) suggestion that with the NBA lockout still in effect, she's now the best basketball player in the Magic City. She's more excited to talk about Shawnice Wilson, a new junior transfer from Pitt, than to chat up her own dominance.
As she enters her last year of college ball, Johnson is projected by many to be a top-three pick in the WNBA draft. But for now, she's focused on this season, with an ACC — not to mention an NCAA — championship fully in play.
"Our expectations of us haven't changed. It's just the outside world that looks at us differently," she says. "We want this. This is what we've been waiting for. Let's embrace it — and have fun while we do it."
Michael Tilson Thomas | Ernesto Pichardo >>