Tulane at Alabama
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Tulane: 7-1, Alabama 5-4
TV: SEC Network+
Radio: 93. FM
When she stepped onto the floor for her first game against Southeastern Louisiana, she knew she had made it. Cierra Johnson was finally part of the Alabama women’s basketball team.
Two years ago, Johnson was rated at the 110th best player in the 2016 recruiting class by Prospect Nation. She committed to Alabama, but there was one hiccup: her grades weren’t high enough.
Instead of completely changing her plan, Johnson enrolled less than 10 miles away at Shelton State Community College.
There she was a monster for opposing defenses, especially her sophomore year, averaging 22 points, 53.6 percent shooting, 4.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds. She took the Buccaneers to the Final Four of the NJCAA Tournament before losing to Trinity Valley. She scored a record 135 points in the tournament and scored 47 in her final game as a Buccaneer.
With her play, she was named the 2017-18 Spalding NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Player of the Year.
Even though she dominated the NJCAA, Johnson has come out of the gate slow in her Alabama career, averaging 12 points a game, but shooting just 35.5 percent.
“I think it is all mental, just adapting to a new environment,” Johnson said. “Just have to pick up the energy like coach says and come to play every game.”
Even though the transfer was less than 10 miles away, the transition from NJCAA to an SEC team has been a longer journey. Outside the pace of the game, the biggest challenge is getting used to everything that goes on outside of the game.
“At this level everything changes,” coach Kristy Curry said. “It’s the daily grind of the classroom, the court, study hall, got to go to practice, got to go to film, meet with our coaches, handle the nutrition, meet with the managers. I think to some degree, she’s a first semester freshman, but she’s a first semester junior, and she’s just had to work at it.”
Her environment may have changed, but to Johnson her attitude has stayed the same.
“The game doesn’t change, but the level of competition does,” Johnson said. “You just have to approach the game the same way.”
Johnson and the rest of the Crimson Tide take on the one-loss Tulane Green Wave, a team that Curry is extremely familiar, as she was an assistant there for two years.
Under head coach Lisa Stockton’s 25-year tenure, the Green Wave have won 437 games, seven of which were this season. Stockton won her 500th career game in the team’s win against Nicholls State.
“When I left Tulane at 25, she took over the program two years later, so we share a common bond with how much I love and respect that program,” Curry said. “What she’s done with it is just incredible, and so congratulations to her.”
Krystal Freeman, who averages 13.6 points a game, is Tulane’s leading scorer. She also brings down 5.8 rebounds, which leads the team.