Things didn’t go as planned, but she adapted.

Cierra Johnson always wanted to end up playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide. It is where she committed to play out of high school.

Then she found out she did not qualify academically and would have to enroll in a community college. It was a setback, but she found a home at Shelton State.

“God does things for a reason,” Johnson said. “So, once I put that in my head it only took like a week or two. I was still at home. I made sure that I didn’t carry that to where I am now.”

She didn’t let the disappointment affect her, but the beginning of her Shelton State career was anything but smooth.

Johnson did not embrace the intensity of the program. It led to a rift between her and coach Madonna Thompson.

Johnson was not used to someone pushing her the way that Thompson pushes her players.

“We started off on a bad note,” Thompson said. “I had rules and expectations. I think they were higher than what she was used to. We didn’t click at first.”

Johnson resisted. Then she grew up.

Thompson’s coaching seeped through her mind. She realized what Thompson’s intentions were. Thompson wanted nothing but the best for Johnson.

“Me coming in as a freshman and straight out of high school, it was always like I thought I was right or I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Johnson said. “She saw it. The more I’ve been here, I adjusted to it.”

When they clicked, the team soared.

Johnson and her teammates reached the National Junior College Athletic Association Final Four her freshman year.

This season, she’s the leading scorer on a team that is 30-0 heading into the Alabama Community College Conference tournament. Shelton State will face host Lawson State on Tuesday at 7 p.m in the first round. She’s earned four player-of-the-week honors at the state level and one at the national level this season.

Johnson and Thompson have grown up together the last two seasons.

“To see where we are today compared to where we started out is like polar opposites,” Thompson said. “I totally get along with her. I enjoy watching her play and enjoy her company. That is not something I could say when she first got here.”

Basketball was never the setback, however. It was academics. Basketball was always going to come easy to player with a versatile skill set. She averages 20 points, four rebounds and four assists this season.

Johnson needed to improve academically to play for Alabama. She needed someone to set up an academic support system. Shelton State and Thompson made sure she had that.

She formed a bond with teammate Jordan Lenoir. Lenoir told her what she needed to hear, not what she wanted to hear.

“She’s really on me heavy about academics and majoring and what I’m going to do at Alabama,” Johnson said. “She’s that friend where she’s always going to tell me the truth.”

That academic support system helped her achieved her goal. She signed with Alabama last November.

Throughout her two years at Shelton State, she always maintained a relationship with Alabama coach Kristy Curry and assistant coach Shereka Wright. Signing with Alabama was a no-brainer.

Curry believes she is getting a better player and person than what she saw two years ago.

“It’s been a long process.” Curry said. “Her going to Shelton was the best thing that could have happened for her. I feel like Alabama is going to be the next best thing that will happen to her.”

It’s been a long, unexpected journey, but now, Johnson has her sights set on a NJCAA national championship. Then, she will fulfill her dream of playing for Alabama.

“Being at Shelton State definitely changed my mind-set on life after basketball,” Johnson said. “I grew as a person. I feel like Shelton has changed me.”