EDINBURG — On the other side of the world, Australia more specifically, basketball players come up through the ranks a little differently. Chances are they’ve been exposed to a few other sports that might shape the way they hoop. UTRGV forward Megan Johnson exemplifies those intersections.
“Back home there’s a sport called netball, which is very similar to basketball minus dribbling and stuff like that. I grew up and I started playing that and then my best friend’s older sister actually plays for the Australian (basketball) team. Their family was really into that, so when I was young their family was like ‘Come over, come play basketball.’ The competitiveness within me just took over as I realized I could be so much more aggressive.”
In her third year of playing NCAA basketball, Johnson plans to bring more of that same energy tonight as UTRGV faces its toughest opponent so far, the No. 12 Texas Longhorns.
The 7 p.m. tip-off at the UTRGV Fieldhouse marks the first time the Longhorns have traveled to the Valley after seven meetings with UTRGV/UTPA.
“Yes, UT is a huge school, but we treat them just like everybody else,” Johnson said. “They’re a huge school but we don’t fear anyone, we respect them.”
Her career-high in scoring came against UT-San Antonio in 2017 when she dropped 31 points.
The Newcastle, Australia-born junior’s willingness to stick her nose in the action has been a staple of her game since she arrived in Edinburg as a freshman. In her sophomore season, she set career highs in steals (4 against Trinity University) and rebounds (11 vs. CSU Bakersfield and Trinity).
“What makes her such a special player is she’s so tough mentality that she can guard really one through four on the basketball court,” UTRGV coach Lane Lord said. “I think it is because of her background. She’s one of those players that you really don’t like unless she’s on your team, which is a very good compliment.”
That roughness stems from another one of Australia’s most popular games.
“I think (toughness) was definitely always a part of my game. I grew up with two little brothers and back home everybody plays rugby. You don’t get on the court to be soft back home so coming here it kind of just carried over. I grew up wrestling with my brothers all the time, especially as they got older and bigger than me.”
Her in-your-face style of defense has earned her a key responsibility.
“If you notice in our games, we always put her against their best,” Lord said. “Let’s say their best player is a two (shooting guard) then we’re going to play her on the two. Her stats have suffered a little bit offensively because we’re focusing so much on the defensive end.”
Lord also noted that his team is currently ranked at the top of the conference in holding opponents with an average of 56.4 points allowed per game.
“She really brings it every day, not only in the games, but she brings it every day in practice,” Lord said. “She makes everyone around her better because of her intensity.”
“I just feel like we all have to have each other’s back,” said senior Jameka Dowell, another of the team’s top defenders. “We sag back a lot so it’s a lot based on help. You have no choice but to help your teammate and be there for your teammate.”
Johnson’s hard work mentality stems from her active Aussie upbringing, but also a mutual love for her basketball family, 13,327 kilometers or 8,281 miles away from her coastal hometown.
“All the girls, we really want to work hard not just because we love the game but because we love each other,” Johnson said. “This team is such a good team to be a part of. When I step out on the court I’m not just working hard for me, I’m not just working hard for UTRGV but I’m working hard for all the girls who come out here every day and give everything on the court. We leave it out there for each other.”