Transfer forward making most of new surroundings

first_imgJunior Michala Johnson has finally made her long anticipated step back into the limelight. After sitting out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer bylaws, the 6-foot-3 forward has dreams of achieving goals that seemed impossible just two years ago.Johnson’s journey to Madison ironically began in the spotlight.Coming out of Bellwood, Ill., and the perennial powerhouse Montini Catholic High School, she was ranked the No. 46 recruit in the nation and seventh at the power forward position. Head coach Bobbie Kelsey had the chance to scout and recruit Johnson while she was an assistant coach at Stanford University. Kelsey said Johnson was dominant at the high-school level, where the phenom averaged 16.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, and four blocks per game.Johnson was so coveted by college coaches that the dynastic University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma offered her a scholarship. Johnson packed her bags and headed to Storrs, Conn., to begin her college basketball career for the No. 1 team in the nation. Johnson was attracted to the publicity that came with being a part of the Huskies and felt that she could be a big-time player at the nation’s top program.“Sometimes kids get caught up in the hype,” Kelsey said, reflecting on what might have been going through her head.It was there she won a national championship to cap off her freshmen season against Kelsey’s Stanford squad. It was also there Johnson realized she did not fit in with the program was not maximizing her potential as a basketball player. She only played 288 total minutes in two seasons at UCONN, 161 in 2010-2011 and just 127 in 2011-2012.Midway through her sophomore season, Johnson decided that she would transfer and pursue her basketball career at a different institution of higher learning.Johnson targeted her search to almost all Big Ten schools, notably Michigan State, Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern. In the end Wisconsin won out, primarily because of her familiarity with Kelsey, the proximity to home and the prospects of earning a ton of court time.Johnson describes her transfer season as frustrating and trying, yet beneficial. While she was upset that she could not play in the games, she says she learned about Kelsey’s system in practice and the way the coaches operated. Johnson shifted to a mental focus and became a student of the game by scouting Big Ten teams and other prominent opponents from the bench.Something that made the transfer process bearable for Johnson was having fifth-year senior point guard Taylor Wurtz with her on the bench that season. Wurtz grabbed a medical redshirt five games into last season after suffering a season-ending back injury. Wurtz said that both players helped each other get through the difficult time by keeping their sights set on the next season.“During the last preseason I always joked, ‘Wow, Michala, I would love to play with you,’” Wurtz said. “When it actually happened, I was really happy I could play with her because she is a special player.”Now that Johnson has the spotlight, she has shown minimal interest in relinquishing it. Johnson put her season of practice to work for the first time on October 10 in the season opener. After an explosive first half against Drake, she finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs. The following game she scored 21 points, shooting 10-17 from the field against UW-Milwaukee.“Everybody else said they couldn’t tell, but I was extremely nervous and excited at the same time,” Johnson said of the first time she pulled her No. 25 jersey over her head. “We worked on a lot of stuff in practice, and I just went with the flow of the game.”Johnson serves as an enforcer in the middle for UW. She adds a completely different aspect to the offensive game plan, and Kelsey has every intention of her touching the ball on each possession. Kelsey also praised Johnson’s work ethic during her season of ineligibility because she was aware she would have to step into a starting role eventually.“She brings a lot of scoring power. She brings a lot of rebounding ability,” Kelsey said. “She has a nice shot up top and foot-fake to get to the basket, and she can finish with both hands. We’re happy to have her because we have that outside punch but you need to have that inside force.”Johnson wants to improve on her rebounding game and considers it a point of emphasis for her improvement. Kelsey has set a goal for Johnson for the upcoming season, that she should get a double-double every game. Coach knows that this is a lofty task, but that Johnson is one of the few players in the nation capable of attaining this goal.Affectionately known as “Mick” by her teammates and coaches, Johnson still has two years of eligibility remaining, which is great news for Badgers fans. After many trials and tribulations, Michala finally has her spotlight back. Badger nation will most definitely not mind if she stays there for a while.last_img read more