Loyola’s women’s basketball redshirt junior guard Taylor Johnson is known among her teammates for being soft- spoken and letting her work speak for itself. She is a dynamic athlete, who exemplifies poise on and off the court and was not phased by adversity, according to head coach Sheryl Swoopes.
Basketball is a big part of Johnson’s family. Her father, a former player, has a strong ardor for the sport. At 12 years old, Johnson decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and traded her soccer cleats for basketball sneakers. After earning a spot on a competitive travel team, Johnson’s passion for the sport and skills continued to grow exponentially.
Johnson signed her National Letter of Intent to Loyola in November 2011. In her first season with the Ramblers, Johnson had an immediate impact on the women’s basketball program. She recorded five double-doubles that season and averaged 14.3 points and six rebounds per game. Johnson was the first player in Loyola’s history to earn the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year accolade and she helped lead the Ramblers to the conference championship game before dropping the game to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
In each of the first five games of Johnson’s sophomore campaign, she scored in double digits. Her second year campaign was on track to become a record-breaking season — until her season came to a sudden halt.
On Nov. 23, 2013 in a game against Western Illinois, Johnson fell and tore her ACL. That was the last time she took the court that season.
After receiving surgery, her road to recovery began. At the time, little did she know how mentally challenging her journey would be. Johnson said she relied heavily on her faith during the recovery because she has always turned to religion to get her through hard times.
Last season, a medically-cleared Taylor Johnson took the court. After playing a quarter of the season, she had to take an unspecified absence, according to athletics. Upon return, she was not playing like her confident and skillful self.
Swoopes said she believed that Johnson could make a full recovery but knew when Johnson returned last season, her heart was not fully in the game.
“She came back last year and I thought there were times where I could see that old Taylor coming back from an athleticism standpoint, but I knew she wasn’t completely 100 percent and she wasn’t that confident in herself,” said Swoopes.
After last season, Johnson said she was determined to work hard to get better. Over the summer, Johnson said her parents and her boyfriend, Loyola’s men’s basketball player Jeff White, helped her regain confidence on the court. She said they spent long hours in the gym working on different shooting drills.
This season Johnson came back redetermined, refocused and recommitted to the sport she fell in love with as a young girl.
Johnson is averaging 14.3 points per game. She is also shooting a team-high 82 percent from behind the free-throw line and she leads the team with over 50 rebounds. Halfway through the season, Johnson has already grabbed two Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Week honors and was named twice this season among the nation’s top women’s basketball players, according to the NCAA.
Johnson attributes her success as a player to her faith, family and friends, who continue to motivate her every day.
“I want to be able to use the gift, this talent that God has given me, to my best potential,” Johnson said. “He’s also been my push [during] my whole basketball career.”
Swoopes said Johnson’s regained confidence has had a direct impact on the team’s success this season.
“Taylor’s a huge part of how well we’re playing right now,” Swoopes said. “She has worked exceptionally hard to get back to where she is right now … I think Taylor’s playing some of the best basketball she’s played in three years.”
As for Johnson’s future, she has her sights set high on the WNBA or playing professionally overseas. Swoopes said she believes Johnson can achieve these high goals.
“I want Taylor to be able to do whatever Taylor wants to do and if that’s play in the WNBA or to play overseas, I want to help her do that,” she said. “Do I think that’s possible? Absolutely.”
Loyola’s women’s basketball team is currently 6-3 in the MVC and has a 10-10 overall record. Johnson and the Ramblers are scheduled to play Southern Illinois University on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. Last time Loyola faced Southern Illinois the Ramblers defeated the Salukis 69-68 in overtime.