All the smiling faces in a picture-perfect Facebook post Wednesday morning told the story: Former LSU and WNBA standout Temeka Johnson got her first career win as McKinley High’s head coach.
The Panthers beat Northeast 55-20 in their season opener Tuesday night. More games loom before McKinley, the No. 3 overall seed, begins play in the East Baton Rouge Parish Girls tournament, which starts Saturday at Zachary. Johnson says she has a clear mission.
“Giving back to the game is something that is always important to me,” Johnson said. “Basketball has given me a lot and been a huge part of my life. Coaching was not something I always planned to do. But I do love what I’m doing.”
Johnson understands the unique situation she is in. Though she is known for hosting basketball camps for girls in multiple south Louisiana cities, this is her first coaching job at a school.
The McKinley team also is a special case in point. LHSAA sanctions in all sports made the Panthers ineligible for the Division I select playoffs a year ago. The previous two years, McKinley was the Division I runner-up. So expectations are high.
“One thing these girls know is that I won’t sugarcoat things for them,” Johnson said. “There are certain things I expect from them, and they have really responded. Since I started working with them over the summer, it really is amazing how they have progressed. I can see the growth they have made as players and young women.”
Reigning Division II champion Lee and host Zachary are the top two seeds going into the EBR tourney. But a roster that includes two players who have signed with national powers, Erica Lafayette (Rutgers) and Kenyal Perry (Texas A&M), makes McKinley a team plenty of people will be watching.
The 6-foot-7 Perry left the McKinley team during her sophomore season and spent last season at a Houston area school. Perry is one of the tallest girls players to ever play in the Baton Rouge area.
“Height is something you can’t coach,” the 5-foot-3 Johnson said. “Since this summer, I have seen Kenyal grow so much in terms of her work ethic and approach to the game. She has become very focused on improving her skills.”
Johnson was sure to note that McKinley is not a two-person team. She has enjoyed the challenge of learning each player’s skills and levels of desire. She cites the play of Me’gan Brown, one of five seniors on the roster, as an example.
“Me’gan Brown is one of our leaders,” Johnson said. “She’s about 5-5. But tell her that you need a rebound, a steal … anything, and she is determined to get it.”
Game experience as a coach is something Johnson wants to absorb. She has sought advice from multiple coaches, including former LSU assistant Bob Starkey of Texas A&M and University High coach Bonita Johnson, another former LSU player.
“I’m not sure how I will react in some game situations,” Johnson said. “I’m learning, too.”