Since bursting onto the scene as Rookie of the Year in 2005 with the Washington Mystics, Temeka Johnson has been considered a leader in the WNBA. It was for this very reason the Tulsa Shock traded for Johnson before the season began, hoping she could give the team the experience and vocal leadership that has been absent in past seasons. Johnson has exceeded expectations, except maybe her own, as she leads the team with a career-high 14.5 points per game through the first 10 games.
Perhaps no one knows Johnson’s value more than the Phoenix Mercury, who she helped lead to a championship in 2009. Johnson’s former coach, Corey Gaines, had nothing but praise for his former floor general after his team narrowly escaped Tulsa with a 89-87 win on May 22.
“She’s a veteran player, she’s going to help them, and she is going to lead them.” Gaines said. “She’s a great player, I won a championship with her, and I will always be tied to her.”
Former MVP Diana Taurasi, who grew up playing with Johnson as far back as sixth grade, said she was the consummate leader and teammate during their time together in Phoenix.
“Meek was a big part of our championship in 2009,” Taurasi said. “She’s a hard worker and really dedicated to the game ... She is going to mean a lot to this franchise and I think you can see that in the improvement in this team in the way they are organized.”
Three of Johnson’s best performances this season came against Phoenix as she scored 16 at home in the first meeting on May 22, 18 points with a career-high nine rebounds in Phoenix on June 3 and a season-high 22 points to secure the win on June 17. Although Johnson performed at a career-level in all three games against Phoenix, she insisted that there were no hard feelings driving her play against her former team.
“Yeah, I played for them, but now I play for Tulsa," Johnson said. "I had no extra motivation against them, I’m trying to get a win, and that’s what motivates me. It was great playing with them. I played with one of the greatest players to play the game [in Diana Taurasi]; got in a system that helped me grow and win a championship with some great young women; but everything has to come to an end at some point, and it was time to move on.”
For Temeka moving on means embracing the opportunity to be a leader for the Shock as they try to become a championship contender.
“Honestly, I’ve always been a leader,” Johnson said. “The Shock are a young group, so I not only have to lead vocally, but I have to lead on the floor too. I think that’s what I will continue to bring, as well with a winning attitude. It doesn’t matter what happened last year. We can’t look forward, and we definitely can’t look back. We have to stay focused on the moment and understand that we are just as skilled as the next opponent, and that’s the attitude I am bringing.”