South Carolina women’s basketball: Tessa Johnson reflects on the championship

Freshman Tessa Johnson was the unexpected star of South Carolina’s championship game win over Iowa, scoring a career-high 19 points. 

It was the culmination of a whirlwind postseason in which Johnson went from a little-known role player to a full-fledged superstar and hometown hero.

“It’s been really cool because just the support that I have, not only here but like everyone at home,” Johnson said. “I found out that they had watched parties for me at the St. Michael’s cinema. That’s our movie theater in my hometown. And my coaches and then the school, my brother told me that the school did a little something for me. And just the fact like that I have so much support around me. I am very blessed and appreciative of that.”

Johnson made 7-11 shots, beginning with a short jumper in the first quarter. As she made shot after shot, her phone began to blow up before the game was even over.

Tessa Johnson injury: What happened to the South Carolina WBB guard during  game vs Texas A&M?

“When I look back at my phone, I saw messages as I was playing. They were like, I’m so excited, you’re doing so well, or your team is doing so well,” Johnson said. “Or they would say something about the game. So I think that was really funny. One that surprised me. I don’t know. I think there’s a bunch of them. I heard a lot of stuff from the support from back home. My parents, my grandparents are getting texts from people they haven’t heard of for a long time. And just all of it I think all of it is really cool. And not necessarily surprising, but surprising.”

It was certainly surprising to get a shout-out from LeBron James, who was on social media while watching the game.

Tessa Johnson cooking!! 👩🏽‍🍳 — LeBron James (@KingJames) April 7, 2024

It was a perfect ending for Johnson. From home, she watched South Carolina lose to Iowa in the 2023 Final Four and vowed things would have been different if she had been on the floor. Johnson knew her three-point shooting would have made a difference, but she downplayed the difference she made.

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“I was moreso thinking like if I was on that team I could do anything, I could to help them, not necessarily win, but definitely help them,” Johnson said. “But like digesting, it’s just seeing, like reflecting back on the beginning of the season individually and as a team, it’s really cool to see because we grew a lot from our expectations, personally, and just as the team we grew a ton. I think the coolest piece is that no one really was expecting anything because of how new we were and how young we were as a team. So the fact that we gelled together so well off the court, which helped us on the court, like that’s really cool.”

Johnson didn’t find her stride immediately the way fellow freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley did. It took her a while to figure out the college game and then SEC play, but once she found her footing Johnson excelled.

“Coming in as a freshman, obviously it’s a little scary, just because I’m leaving my family, I’m coming into a whole new chapter of my life. I think the fact that we did emphasize that, like, I’m really big with relationships so that helped me a lot just off the court. It really helped me on the court because I was able to trust my teammates and build a relationship with each person individually. So that was a blessing to me, honestly. I got lucky, we gelled very easily. I didn’t really have any expectations, but that was this team. I love this team.”

Johnson’s focus now turns to the offseason, and it’s back to the basics. There was so much new information to take in this season that she lost sight of the fundamentals.

“I’m gonna have my coaches’ meetings. I’m gonna talk to my dad, because he’s been my trainer my whole life,” she said. “And then we’ll figure it out from there. But like looking back personally, I definitely want to work on like my ball handling, like fundamentals that I used to work on, and then I kind of stopped because I don’t know why I stopped to be honest, but just fundamentals right now. But I’ll figure everything out when I have my coaches’ meetings.”

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