At some point in the next year or two, Iowa senior Morgan Johnson will head to a third-world country to help treat sick people and deliver the Word of God.
“My two favorite things in life,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Johnson will leave Iowa having played in more games than any other player in school history. The 6-foot-6 post also plans to wrap up and ice down her knees a few more times and continue her career overseas.
With her final season winding down, Johnson is looking forward to the next stage of her life and career.
“I’ve grown so much as a person,” Johnson said. “Grown because of this basketball program.”
It’s been a long journey from being a skinny high school player out of Platte City, Mo., who was told she wasn’t good enough to play in the Big Ten.
“I remember … when I was talking to her about this in a phone call, talking to her, letting her know I thought she could be successful at this level. I thought she could be a great player at this level,” Bluder said. “I could almost feel the relief coming over the phone from her because I think other coaches that were recruiting her were telling her she wasn’t good enough to play at the BCS level.
“I think she felt kind of a sense of relief in that conversation.”
But it took some time to build up that confidence at Iowa.
Johnson was thrown onto the court as a starter in her first game as a freshman (returning post JoAnn Hamlin had been ruled out for the season with an injury).
“I was terrified,” Johnson said. “I think I almost cried before my first game when I realized I was starting. It was hard for me.”
Fast-forward four years. Johnson was just selected second-team all-Big Ten in her senior season. She is the all-time Iowa leader in blocked shots (283) and is ninth in career scoring (1,540) and fifth in career rebounds (856).
She has played in 126 games in her career. She’ll tie the Iowa record of 127, set by Kamille Wahlin, Thursday against Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“It’s amazing,” Johnson said. “I wanted to go somewhere I could play my freshman year. I only get four years to play. I wanted to play every second I can possibly play.
“Coach Bluder held up that end.”
The Iowa coaches also helped instill confidence in Johnson, even as the strength and conditioning staff transformed her from a beanpole to a force in the paint.
“I’d say lending more to the project side just because of her thinness, her lack of strength when she came in here,” Bluder said. “She had to get a little bit mentally tougher.
“But I don’t know that I’ve had many posts that have come in here with such a willingness to learn, a willingness to work hard, a positive attitude. So those things are what have developed her into being the player she is today.”
Fellow senior Jaime Printy watched as Johnson developed on the court.
“She’s grown a ton,” Printys aid. “From the skinny, awkward girl to second-team Big Ten. She’s put in the work, gained the confidence.”
It didn’t happen all at once.
“It took a while,” Johnson said. “Most of my freshman year, and even part of my sophomore year, before I realized I can compete at this level. Not only compete but shine here.
“It was insecurity. I was not as comfortable with myself. I’m more confident with the strength Christ has given me. That’s given me all the motivation and belief in myself to do the things I’ve done this year.”
Johnson had always planned to go into medicine. And early on she decided she wanted to be a pediatrician.
“I have a heart for pediatrics, being the oldest of four,” Johnson said. “Kids get me. I like to go over and sit with the kids more than the adults. I’m just a big kid at heart.”
Her first MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score wasn’t what she had hoped for.
“Working on my game, studying for my MCAT, and trying to graduate in four years … all that together is a lot to do,” Johnson said. “I’m not disappointed in myself. I have another opportunity. I’ll get it the next time.”
But when a door closes, another opens.
Not getting into medical school right away has opened up the idea of playing basketball just a little bit longer. The trip to Europe by the Hawkeyes in the fall of 2011 also influenced Johnson.
“I loved it,” she said. “I liked to see all the museums, all the trips. I’m kind of nerdy like that.
“That really opened my eyes.”
Suddenly the idea of playing basketball overseas for a year or two didn’t sound too bad.
“I want to get paid to go over there and do that,” Johnson said. “My knees have held up a little better than I would have thought. I want to take advantage of what God’s put before me.”
A future in medicine will still be there when Johnson wants to stop swatting basketballs.
She’s worked hard to become one of the top shot-blockers in Big Ten history. She is currently fifth.
Johnson has always had the length, but had to add the size and good decision-making when to try for a block.
“I learned that it’s important for me to block shots; but it’s more important for me to stay on the court,” Johnson said. “Understanding when the opportunity to take risks, and when’s a good time to hold back.
“Just the balance between the two has been really what I’ve learned about blocking shots.”
It works pretty well in life, too, Johnson has discovered.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball