Awards season: HoopsHD interviews Hall of Famer Katrina McClain Johnson

Awards season: HoopsHD interviews Hall of Famer Katrina McClain Johnson

In an effort to promote the game of basketball and recognize the best players in the nation, the Basketball Hall of Fame created awards for the men’s All-America Team in 2015. These awards covered 5 different positions and were named after 5 of the best players to ever step onto the court: the Bob Cousy Point Guard Of The Year, the Jerry West Shooting Guard Of The Year, the Julius Erving Small Forward Of The Year, the Karl Malone Power Forward Of The Year, and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center Of The Year. In 2017 the Hall of Fame announced a partnership with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) to present awards celebrating 5 of the best women to ever play the game: the Nancy Lieberman Point Guard Of The Year, the Ann Meyers Drysdale Shooting Guard Of The Year, the Cheryl Miller Small Forward Of The Year, the Katrina McClain Power Forward Of The Year, and the Lisa Leslie Center Of The Year. As we approach the April announcement of this season’s women’s award winners, HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel will present interviews with all 5 Hall of Fame legends:

Meyers Drysdale:
McClain Johnson: see below
Leslie: March

In 1984 at Georgia you were named to the Freshman All-American team and became the 1st-ever SEC Freshman of the Year: how were you able to make such a smooth transition from high school to college? I owe that to my high school coach Lorraine Kennedy. She would work us hard and make us run a lot so after that I figured that Georgia would be no problem…but they ran me just as much. Once you start working hard and then keep working hard in practice, eventually it becomes a part of you and I never wanted to give anything less.

Take me through the 1985 NCAA Final 4:
In the semifinals you scored a career-high 25 PTS and set a Final 4 record by making 10-12 FG in a win over Western Kentucky: how excited were you for the rematch after missing the 5-PT loss to WKU in December due to an ankle injury? For me it was more about having a good game because I always appreciated great competition. I knew we were in for a nice match-up and my mindset was always about being a competitor. When we played against less-competitive teams it was not that much fun for me, but tougher teams made it more exciting as that got the butterflies going.

In the title game you had a 5-PT loss to Old Dominion (who tied a Final 4 record with 57 REB): where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career (despite making the all-tourney team)? It is definitely up there. Teresa Edwards fouled out with several minutes to go and I recall a lot of horrible calls so I felt that we were cheated out of that game. It was such a hard-fought game that the calls at the end were critical.

You lost to your SEC rival Tennessee in the NCAA tourney in both 1984/1986: what was it like to face Pat Summitt in March? Usually 1 of us would end up knocking the other 1 out. We hated being in the same bracket as them and I am sure that the feeling was mutual! They presented a challenge so it brought the best out of both of us. The bad thing is that 1 of us had to lose.

You were a 2-time All-American as well as 1987 national POY: what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? It was nice to be recognized for all of my hard work and it helped to be around great players like Teresa. I was just blessed to be there and my teammates made me better because I would practice against them every day. I hated practicing against Janet Harris because she kept kicking my butt, but my roommate Teresa told me every day to just be tough. People would yell at Janet to “eat my lunch” and 1 day I just got tired of it and knocked Janet to the floor: after that it just became a great competition that helped us develop as individuals.

You graduated with a school-record career 62 FG% and still rank among the best in school history with 2195 PTS/1193 REB/290 BLK: what is the key to making shots, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? Practice/practice/practice! I worked hard and had a passion for the game. Some players just like it but I loved basketball. I played against the guys in high school all the time which helped me learn how to shoot well. I just stayed with the game and had great family support: my parents always made sure I got my homework done and behaved well at school, which kept me focused. My whole family was competitive at sports, which drove all of us.

In the title game of the inaugural Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986 you faced a Soviet Union team that had a 152–2 record in major international competition over the prior 3 decades: what was it like to face 7’2” Uljana Semjonova (who was considered the most dominant player in the world at the time), and how were you able to win by 23 PTS? They had 1-2 good players but we had 12 great players! We had the passion to play/win: we were not just out there to compete but were playing for blood. We did not really know who Semjonova was: we just accepted the challenge to do whatever we had to do to win.

You played pro basketball for several years in a few different countries: what is the biggest difference between basketball in the US vs. basketball overseas? The biggest difference is that when you are overseas you cannot just hop on a bus and go home to see your loved ones. Some of my teammates who called home a lot would rack up $30,000 phone bills! I was blessed to be on great teams: I was told that it would be culture shock but my team in Japan took really good care of me. We were getting paid to practice and play, which I thought was great. There was not as much TV coverage as there is today but we all wanted to be pro athletes. Women’s basketball is embraced more overseas: we were like kings/queens over there and got a lot of respect.

You were a 3-time Olympian (2 gold/1 bronze) and were named USA Basketball’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1988 & 1992: what is your favorite memory from your time representing your country? I liked the opening ceremonies at the Olympics because it showed our camaraderie. Everyone hated the US and wanted to beat us, so when they announced our country’s name it felt so good and was such a proud moment for all of us to represent our country. Nobody wants to lose the gold medal but the opening ceremonies is when the world is watching.

In 2008 you created the Katrina McClain Foundation to raise awareness of childhood obesity: why did you pick that issue, and what have you been able to accomplish so far? I saw that it was a big problem for a lot of kids: they are just eating too much sugar and not exercising enough and getting proper rest. A lot of that has to do with their environment such as gaming/technology, which are distractions that keep them inside more. We did not have that problem growing up and I felt that doing something was better than nothing. I wanted to teach kids to make good choices.

You were inducted into both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: where do those moments rank among the highlights of your career? Each Hall of Fame that I have been inducted into was great: to be recognized after you are done playing was just amazing. I felt like a little kid who just kept getting nice presents. The gift that I was given was a platform for now: I get to reach back and give lessons that were instilled in me, and when I realize that kids remember me and have Googled my speech it is so fun. It is really rewarding to give back to someone else: I get to appreciate it every day.

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