Meek Inherits the Earth

By Stefan Swiat, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Oct. 3, 2009

When Temeka Johnson played for the Sparks, L.A. Head Coach Michael Cooper often told the diminutive guard to hold back on her launches from downtown. Although Cooper was a deadly three-point shooter in his playing days, the aphorism “it takes one to know one” didn't seem to apply in this case.

Before Johnson came to Phoenix, she never shot so much in her life. In fact, this season “Meek” shot double (87) the amount of three-pointers she shot in her rookie season (43), which was her previous career-high in attempts.

To put things in perspective, Johnson has taken more shots this season (281), than in the last two combined (189). But it’s not that she’s just hoisting them up there either.

All Johnson has done is nail 41.4 percent of her three-pointers this season. She finished the regular season ranked sixth overall in the WNBA in three-point field goal percentage.

“I needed a little confidence, but I also worked on it,” Johnson said. “It’s not that I couldn’t shoot, I just didn’t. We (the Sparks) had a lot of powerhouses down low.”

Throughout the playoffs, Johnson has been deadlier than ever, drilling three-pointers at a 48 percent clip. Although she was still amongst the league leaders in total assists, she has added an entire new dimension to her game.

But the question still remains, why did Johnson’s shot just emerge this season?

Besides being freed from Cooper’s post-oriented offensive system, Johnson attributes much of her success to having a fresh start in Phoenix. During a tumultuous 2008 that saw the passing of her grandmother, Johnson’s game suffered as a result of the emotional issues she was dealing with off the court.

“Last year was probably the toughest year of my life on and off the court,” the Mercury playmaker said. “I had some life battles with losing my grandmother because she was my backbone. After I went overseas and regrouped, I found myself again.”

When her 2008 season concluded with the Sparks, “TJ” signed with a team in Israel. Not only was she able to clear her head while playing abroad, but she was able to fill it with positive thoughts.

“I played for a really good coach over there that believed in me,” she said. “He talked to me about shooting, getting more involved in the offense and not being so passive. He really helped me out a lot.”

Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines saw the same sort of potential in the former WNBA Rookie of the Year. Gaines and Mercury GM Ann Meyers Drysdale traded for her before the season began and they gave her the green light from the moment she stepped off the plane.

“I wanted her to be a scoring threat,” Gaines said. “It’s funny how, if you give someone confidence, they can shoot the ball. Well, that’s all shooting is… it’s confidence.

“I told her, we traded for you. We believe in you. Shoot the ball. What’s the worst that can happen? You miss? So what? She’s always had that shot because I’m not a shooting coach.”

It’s amazing how one team’s afterthought can be another team’s gain. The Mercury eliminated the Sparks in the Western Conference Finals and now Johnson is playing for a WNBA Championship.

True to her season’s form, Johnson is 5-of-6 from beyond the arc thus far in the Finals. But for “TJ,” she sees her shooting as an integral part of a bigger picture.

“I think it helps us feed off of each other when we are all hitting our shots,” she said. “If we all get in and work on our shot we are helping each other. And that’s what gotten us here.”

Any questions or comments for PhoenixMercury.com's Stefan Swiat? Click here to send him your comments by e-mail.