South Carolina’s Raven Johnson turns memes into inspiration. Now, she’s ready for her moment

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CLEVELAND – Raven Johnson was sure she was going to give up basketball. She knew that everyone would do everything possible to stop her from doing so, but for the time being, she saw no way back. not from.

He dreamed of what life would be like as just a student instead of a student-athlete. He plans to become a lawyer. It is a difficult path. Maybe it would be better to just focus on school and internships. Maybe she will be happier. Maybe if he lies to himself enough, he’ll eventually believe it.

Back in her room on the South Carolina campus, leaving didn’t feel like giving up, it felt like it was the only way she could recover from what had happened.

The Gamecocks – the No. 1 seed and undefeated – had a surprising loss to Iowa in last season’s Final Four. With a senior class that had lost only eight games overall leading up to that national semifinal, Johnson took on the responsibility of making sure those upperclassmen could end their careers with wins and a national championship. So, when Iowa won and suffered the ninth loss of his career, Johnson felt completely responsible. He didn’t do enough to help them win. He had disappointed everyone.

“I feel like we lost that game,” Johnson said. “To this day, I blame myself.”

But if that was the weight she felt on her shoulders, it was the video itself that brought her to her knees.

You know the video. Caitlin Clark dove into the paint and flagged Johnson at the 3-point line. With no defender within 10 feet, Johnson doesn’t even look at the basket. Doesn’t even consider shooting or attempting to play an aggressive game. which resulted in that video – Jokes and memes – hurt.

But the final shock was that Johnson did not even recognize himself at that moment.

Who is that player? Not the girl who never lost a game at Georgia State as a high school student. …Not the confident guard who wanted to play for Don Staley at South Carolina. …not the player who wanted to do everything possible to help her teammates win.

Johnson said: “It doesn’t even sound like me.”

Friends and teammates told him it would pass, and when they did, he lied and said he was fine. She wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. Former Gamecocks forward Leticia Amihere came with scripture and asked Johnson to go to church with her. On a call with his mentor and business manager Justin Holland, as they were discussing his offseason plans, Johnson suddenly said: “I don’t even care what they’re saying online.” Holland added: “And we’re not even talking about the Iowa incident.”

After the title game, Johnson deleted all social media. A few days later, when she felt like she might have taken a step towards betterment, she went to the grocery store, when a shopkeeper made fun of that moment. She left after placing her groceries in the aisle.

However, she still struggled to talk openly about it. Amihere called Johnson’s mother, but in the conversation, Raven said the same lines to her mother, Kia Johnson: She was fine. everything was OK.

But eventually the matter calmed down and Kia began to understand how low her daughter was. He adopted a unique method. Kia turned the situation around.

“Honestly, I talked to him about Kaitlyn,” Kia said. “I said, ‘Don’t you think Kaitlyn is under pressure? When she doesn’t perform, don’t you think she gets dragged down like the rest of you? She gets it too. She gets bullied, too. ”

Kia reminded her daughter about her freshman season, when she tore her ACL just two games into the season and went through months of rehabilitation. Not only did Johnson have to lose 30-plus pounds, he also had to learn how to walk again, how to bend his knee again. Off the bench that season, he had a front-row seat to the Gamecocks’ 2022 national title run.

Out of something hard and difficult, did he not even remember the good? Has he also not seen development? And didn’t she remember how long the path seemed when she started out? If she can learn to walk again as a new person, she can take those first steps again now, right?

With Amihere’s help, Johnson got back in the gym. A week after the Final Four loss, she was invited to Kelsey Plum’s Dog Class, a gathering of some of the top guards in the country. Then, he received an invitation to Team USA. In each of these settings, he talked to other players who had suffered his own injuries and setbacks.

During all this, she watched the Iowa-South Carolina game tape (she estimates she watched the entire 40 minutes more than 100 times). But instead of looking at her unfamiliar image and feeling ashamed, she began to feel something different.

“It put a chip on my shoulder,” Johnson said. “It added fuel to my fire and forced me to go to the gym and work on my weakness.”

Yes, he needed to improve his 3-point shooting. But the flaw he hated most was that there was game tape, which showed a player in the No. 25 South Carolina uniform with the name Johnson written on the back, but that player was not a Raven.

He decided to spend his offseason in Columbia and when Staley brought on Winston Gandy as an assistant, he began working with him on his shooting form. There were minor changes – his stance, a slight change in the position of his elbows, getting more room for his palm – but he mostly needed to spend time in the gym and weight room. Five days a week, she went to the gym for shooting. not because of He Videos, but because she wanted to recognize herself in every video.

Holland told him, “It’s easy to hide behind the team’s success, but you have to be ready for the moment.” “Your moment is coming. be ready.”

In the preseason after the seniors left last season, Johnson took on a leadership role – even though she was beginning her redshirt sophomore season as someone who had only three career starts.

Staley consistently trusts Johnson the most. She is not expected to lead in scoring or any other statistical measurement (although she does average 8 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game and her 3-point shooting percentage has improved to 37 percent on the year). But she is a player whose strength and tenacity can serve as a role model for her teammates. Johnson leads the Gamecocks in minutes and reliably comes up with clutch play when South Carolina needs it.

In the Gamecocks’ Sweet 16 victory over Indiana, Johnson hit a crucial 3 in the final minute that put the game out of reach for the Hoosiers. Staley said: “I knew she wasn’t going to let us lose.” In Friday’s Final Four, she went 3 of 5 from behind the arc. On Sunday, she will take the field again in the national title match Clark and Iowa, again, He has referred to the season as a revenge tour, but it’s really more like a reintroduction tour of who he is as a player – fiery, impactful, a shooter.

“That video is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Johnson said.

At that time he would never have thought like this. But she too will not make any changes in it.

“Anything you love and are passionate about is going to make you question it at some point – that’s what you need for your success,” Staley said. “And if you don’t have enough power, strength, you will never be successful. Raven is going to be a great player because she was able to overcome that moment and now take it to the next level.

(Photo by Raven Johnson: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

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