Bradenton, Florida, Minneapolis, the moon, Shenise Johnson didn’t care. Finally fit to do so, she was going to compete in the 2020 WNBA campaign.
“I miss the game. I haven’t played in a WNBA season — a full season — in a very, very long time, so I had an itch for it,” Johnson said. “I don’t care if we were playing in the middle of the Sahara, I was playing this season.”
Johnson had carved a nice role out for herself through her first five WNBA seasons. She was a fringe starter who was capable of doing just about anything needed on the floor, including averaging double-digit points. And she was almost always healthy.
Then came 2017, when Johnson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. That season was lost. So, too, was 2018. Johnson returned to the floor for Indiana last season, but played just 17 games when knee pain ended that campaign.
Finally, this summer, Johnson is back in action and gaining confidence in her knee. The 29-year-old, acquired in an offseason trade, could play a major role for the Lynx this summer.
“She’s going to have to bring a lot,” Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “She’s probably going to be our primary initiator. She’s probably going to be the one that handles that the most. She’s got size. So I really like a bigger guard that can be versatile, and she’s been that. I told her she’ll play multiple positions for us, but the one that’s of the most value will probably be being the initiator and what we can do with her from that spot.”
Johnson’s key to success this season may be trusting herself. After three difficult years, she noted the question of whether she’ll be able to play at the level, and health, at which she’s accustomed has crossed her mind.
“But at the same time, you’ve put in so much work, and you have to trust it,” Johnson said. “You just have to, or you won’t be able to play at a high level again. Our trainers, they throw you out there. They say you have to go out there and you have to try, so you may feel down, but it’s better to fall now than on ESPN.”
It’s not easy to build that trust in a body part with which you’ve had so many issues, but if Johnson has gained anything over the past few years, she said it’s mental endurance.
“I’ve learned more about myself these last couple years than I have throughout my whole life,” Johnson said. “When you’re faced with adversity, you learn a whole lot, and you either learn it on the fly, or you’re gonna sink. For me, I’ve learned that I can almost do anything, I can overcome anything with the support of my mom, my brother and my sister, you can pretty much get through anything in this life, so I’ve learned that.”
Johnson provides the Lynx a veteran option to rely on, which is particularly valuable in a shortened, compact season. Still, Johnson said she’s learning more from her teammates.
Reeve said the guard’s versatility — with the ability to post up, defend, rebound and pass — “is going to prove really valuable for us.”
Johnson said her body feels “good” thus far, and is hoping that trend continues throughout the season.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” Johnson said of training camp, “and I cannot wait to get going here.”