By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State freshman Roshunda Johnson isn’t a stranger to all the hype and pressure that comes with playing women’s college basketball.
She’s been a marked woman even before she stepped on campus. After all, she’s was one of the players coach Kurt Budke was hoping to see before his plane went down in Arkansas nearly two years ago.
But these days, Johnson isn’t the target of coaches across the country — just a scrappy point guard in practice. And like most freshmen, she’s just trying to learn the ropes before the season begins.
“It’s different,” Johnson said. “It’s like you have a whole lot of shoes to fill. Once Tiffany Bias leaves, it’s going to be even harder, but if I keep pushing then I’ll fill some spots up and I’ll be out there where people will be looking at me just as they look at her.”
Johnson may be the latest in what seems to be a laundry list of top recruits that have come through Stillwater over the last few years, only adding pressure to perform.
But with Liz Donohoe and Brittney Martin each earning spots on the Big 12 all-freshmen team, Johnson feels like now it’s her turn to carry the torch of freshmen excellence at Oklahoma State.
“I feel like I got to do a lot of work,” Johnson said. “I push myself every day against Tiffany Bias, guarding her at practice. She’s like the Energizer Bunny. She’s doing nothing but making me better and preparing me for when she leaves.”
Bias still has a full season left, but Johnson doesn’t want to take any chances. Throughout this summer she has almost been attached to Bias’ hip, hoping to soak up any advice the seasoned veteran is willing to offer.
“It helps me a lot — a lot,” Johnson said. “She’s made me better since the summer and I look up to her as one of my big sisters. I just want to fill the spot where she comes from.”
Like any little sister, Johnson may occasionally get on Bias’ nerves — asking too many questions, joking around at inopportune times. But Bias has learned to take it all in stride and is often willing to help her guard counterpart out.
“I’m sure I probably get on her nerves a little,” Johnson said. “I’m always trying to figure stuff out and trying to make myself a better player, and I think she understands that. She knows that by making me a better player it makes our whole team that much better.”
Perhaps it’s that reason why the Oklahoma State coaching staff has been so high on Johnson since her junior year. As talented as she is, she’s willing to learn in hopes of limiting that learning curve.
“I don’t think there’s a big gap and that gap is going to close the longer we get into it,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “All the young ones that are coming in right now are in the learning process, their heads are swimming and they’re trying to figure things out right now. While you’re thinking, it’s hard to play this game sometimes. They’re going to get better as they get more acclimated to our program and there’s going to be some young ones that contribute from Day 1.”
But while Johnson will undoubtedly still feel the butterflies and pressure as Oklahoma State opens the exhibition season Tuesday against East Central, there’s also a sense of excitement of putting everything in her past behind her and just playing basketball.
“I’m really excited coming to a program that I have a hand in now,” Johnson said. “We’re really athletic and I feel really good about the team. ... We’re running and gunning for everybody.”