Athleticism, speed, energy and defensive rebounding. These are all things Tara Johnson brings to the plate for Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team.
The 5-foot-10 senior guard from Flint, Michigan started playing basketball in the sixth grade.
In her freshman year in high school, she led her team in rebounds.In her last season with Flint Hamaday High School, she helped lead the team to a State Championship and earned the team MVP award.
She loves basketball because of its competitive nature and the chance to build relationships.
“I like the competition and intensity,” Johnson said. “Basketball brings out another side of me, I’m more serious and competitive. I love having chemistry with my teammates and being able to know what they’re thinking and what they’re going to do; it brings out a new kind of friendship.”
EMU was not the only school Johnson considered when deciding on where she would continue her education.
She signed with Central Connecticut State University, where former Eagles’ assistant coach Yvette Harris was a part of the coaching staff. Despite never making a visit to EMU’s campus, Johnson ended her commitment with CCSU to be closer to home.
“My mom and I are really close and I figured an hour away would be close enough,” Johnson said. “Coach (AnnMarie) Gilbert was also very supportive.”
In her freshman year with the Eagles, Johnson was given the Coach’s Award.The following year she played in all of the team’s 29 games and made two starts. She posted her first double-double when she scored 10 points and recorded 11 rebounds on Nov. 28 against No. 22 Texas Christian University.
Since being at EMU, Johnson has improved in various ways.
In her eyes, her greatest improvement is thinking about the game instead of just playing it.
“I’ve come to focus more on people’s talents and their tendencies,” Johnson said. “So now I am able to defend them based on what they do. I used to play with my athleticism and now it’s more of a mental game to me.”
According to Gilbert, her biggest improvement has been embracing her role on the team.
“She’s a kid who may not see significant minutes, but she has the ability to come into the game and make the game-winning play,” Gilbert said. “She has done some quality things with the time that she does get on the court.”
Teammate Cassie Schrock agrees with Gilbert as she recalls her most memorable game with Johnson. The Eagles were at Duquesne University and found themselves holding a one point advantage with just a few seconds to play.
After a foul, the first free throw was good. The second free throw did not fall, however, the Eagles were able to pull away with the win because Johnson came down with the rebound and held on for the final seconds of the game.
This year Johnson has made an appearance in 19 of the team’s 24 contests. Her .667 free-throw percentage is currently tied for fourth on the squad. She has also recorded three steals and three blocks on the season. Schrock’s favorite thing about her teammate is the energy and personality she brings to the team.
“She’s such a funny person, she’s always cracking jokes.” Schrock said. “You rarely see T.J. upset. She’s always smiling and always happy. She’s a very athletic kid and brings great energy off the bench. She’s a great rebounder and her enthusiasm off the bench is just awesome.”
On game day, Johnson does not practice any particular routine. But, she is particular about what goes into her ears.
“I listen to R&B to slow me down,” Johnson said. “I want to make sure I’m calm and focused. One day that may mean taking a nap, the next it may be doing homework.”
When she catches a spare moment, Johnson likes to crack open her Bible or read some Joyce Meyers. Her favorite book by Meyers that she is reading is Power Thoughts. After hearing her teammates speak of how fun and silly she is, you probably would not guess that she is actually a pretty shy character.
“I like to have fun, but I’m reserved and can be really quiet at times,” Johnson said. “People always describe me as crazy though.”
Johnson is studying psychology and when she graduates, her plan is to attend graduate school to study Clinical Psychology. Her plan is to someday be either a counselor or obtain her Ph.D. in Psychology and prescribe medications for those who suffer from psychological illnesses.
Johnson not only enjoys playing basketball, but she also enjoys being around her teammates. In fact, they have come to be her favorite part about being an Eagle.
“Everyone is a different character and everyone is unique in their own way,” Johnson said. “But put together, we all make the perfect picture.”
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