Johnson uses Iowa State criticism as motivation


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Morgan Johnson wasn’t immediately in love with basketball.

She was noticeably taller than other kids growing up. And in the fifth grade, she took to the hardwood, figuring the game was something “tall people did.”

Yet the more time she devoted to basketball, the more her mind began to change. Eventually, Johnson decided she wanted to pursue the sport at the next level.

Raised in Platte City, Mo., Big 12 basketball was all around her. While ultimately choosing to attend Iowa, she had early interest in other schools in the area, including Creighton, Drake, and Iowa State.

As a 6-5 senior center, Johnson helped to lead her high school to its first ever state championship last season.

She also earned KC Star Scholar Athlete of the Year and Missouri High School Coaches Association Female Athlete of the Year honors, in addition to winning the Miss Show Me Basketball Award, a laurel given to the top prep senior in Missouri.

But before those accolades, an interesting moment occurred after one of her games.

“[The Cylones] recruited me a little bit,” she said. “They came to a game where I played really well, but they told me I would not be able to play, that I was too skinny to be successful at a Division-I college.”

Perhaps it’s that moment that changed Johnson’s collegiate destination as a basketball player.

“It definitely upset me, but as recruiting goes on, you forget about it,” she said. “You move on.”

Luckily for the Iowa coaching staff, she eventually signed with the Hawkeyes. And when senior JoAnn Hamlin suffered a blood clot in her leg shortly before the start of the season, Johnson became the starting center.

She is averaging 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and she has 18 blocks on the season. During a the Hawkeyes’ game against Northern Iowa on Nov. 22, she tied a school record with seven blocks.

With Iowa and Iowa State playing in Ames on tonight, the Hawkeyes look to start a winning streak after being victorious in last year’s matchup and losing the previous three contests.

“If it wasn’t a special game, I don’t think we’d have a whole series named for it,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think it’s an important game for both schools. It just means a little more when you play each other.”

Sophomore guard Kamille Wahlin had similar thoughts.

“Rivalries are always just a lot of fun,” she said. “You can always expect a good game. Both programs are going to prepare well and all the players are going to come out ready to go.”

One player specifically ready will be Johnson, who is eager to show the Cyclones what they missed out on. With that extra motivation, she knows the criticism has made her a better player.

“Yeah, you hold a little bit of a grudge,” she said. “But in the long run, it’s one of those things that make you stronger. You know you’re getting better from it.”

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