Feb. 24, 2000
BERKELEY - On the basketball court, California's Courtney Johnson looks intense, full of confidence and determination, and ready to put her whole being into the game. These are all true, all attributes which help her to succeed come game time, but there is another side to Johnson, one that makes her not just a tremendous athlete, but also a very admirable person.
"Everything that I am, I attribute to my family and their support," explained Johnson. "I am their product."
It is this family-oriented stance in life that motivates Johnson and keeps her moving towards success on the basketball court or in the classroom. Growing up in nearby Antioch, Johnson, a 5-8 junior guard, had a phenomenal high school career but initially didn't consider playing basketball at Cal. That was until her older sister Stacey, who played basketball at Arizona State and Houston and who now works for the WNBA's Houston Comets, introduced her to California head coach Marianne Stanley.
"That was a blessing," said Johnson. "I wanted to stay close to my parents, and they felt very comfortable with coach Stanley. That was 85 percent of the reason for me being here."
With family in the stands at each home game, Johnson finds the close support and comfort she needs to perform each game at her optimal potential, and this season, that has surely been a performance to see.
"I think that's what makes me successful," said Johnson. "I'm just so blessed. I always have somebody in my corner."
This season, Johnson has definitely been someone to watch. One of the best defenders in the Pac-10, Johnson leads not just her team but the whole conference in steals with 3.24 per game (55 total). But Johnson also has been doing much more than defending this year, leading the Bears at the offensive end of the floor, averaging 12.1 points and 2.8 assists per game starting at point guard. Her natural position is shooting guard, but she is willing to help the team where ever she is needed.
Every one of Johnson's season-high totals are also career-high totals. She knocked down 22 points at Santa Clara (12/2/99), nine rebounds vs. Florida (12/19/99), seven assists vs. USC (2/3/00), and two blocks and eight steals at Washington (1/29/00). All in all, Johnson is having an exemplary year for California.
"I'm excited that I've improved," said Johnson, "especially on the team aspects. I like being more of a contributor to our success."
Johnson also likes giving back, and to her that means giving back something to her family and her community. That motivation led Johnson to hold basketball clinics last year at her younger brother Chad's school, Kings Valley Christian.
"It's always nice to go in and see them smile," said Johnson, who also tutors young kids at her family's church. "Anything I can give back to my church, I will."
But there's more to all of this to Johnson than just volunteering her time and giving back. There's some personal discovery that comes with bringing a smile to someone's face, to brightening a child's day and proving that one's goals can always be attainable.
"I feel like I've been given a blessing to play basketball at this level," said Johnson. "It's exciting to be with the kids, and I learn from them, as well. Their love of the game is very exciting to see."
And it is just that kind of excitement for the game that Johnson is now focusing on bringing back to her teammates, looking to provide more of a motivational leadership role as a co-captain with Paige Bowie and building upon each day's lessons.
"I think as a team we've done a great job staying positive, always moving forward," said Johnson. "It's nice to have a team. They feel your feelings. Game in and game out, we believe in our ability to make our team stronger."
With seven more games to go this season and five of those at home, including tonight's match-up with the Stanford Cardinal, that is just what Johnson and the Bears are looking to do, get stronger. Just because the beginning of the season may not have gone the way the Bears would have liked, by no means are they willing to give an inch to their opponents down the stretch. For the Bears and Johnson, it is all about team improvement, each day, each game.
"We believe in each other," said Johnson. "When your team gets along, it makes winning so much better and losing so much easier. I'm more worried about my team right now than I am about myself."