Versatile Johnson Embraces New Team, Opportunity

By Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS – When Shenise Johnson talks about her move to the Indiana Fever, unalloyed delight is evident in her voice.

Not that Johnson’s three seasons in San Antonio were unhappy ones. She describes the Stars as a “great organization,” from whom she received “A-1 treatment.”

Johnson realized, however, the time had arrived to start burnishing her image as a WNBA player. And that, she figures, might happen more smoothly in the 317 Area Code.

“I just wanted a different opportunity,” Johnson said Wednesday at the Fever’s 2015 Media Day. “I honestly just wanted an opportunity for a better role. I love San Antonio. I learned a lot while I was there. I just felt like I kind of reached my ceiling.”

Indiana traded its first- and second-round picks in the 2015 draft to acquire Johnson and San Antonio’s second-rounder. The swap brought the Fever a 24-year-old player who has averaged 7.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists in her three-year pro career.

It also brought a skilled, versatile performer who should fit nicely into the fast-paced, open style of play that is planned by new Indiana Coach Stephanie White.

“Shenise does a lot of things you can’t teach,” White said. “She has the ability, probably unlike anybody on our team, to break down the defense. She can create her own shot at will. And she is also a terrific lock-down, one-on-one defender.”

Johnson’s best season in San Antonio was 2013, her second with the club. She started 24 games and produced a scoring average of 11.0. For most of her time with the Stars, however, the 5-foot-11 guard made her contributions as a reserve.

“I think she has been in a system where she’s come off the bench, played behind some All-Stars, and she’s really trying to find her way in the WNBA,” White said. “Sometimes, that just takes a change of scenery.”

The scenery in Indianapolis promises to be different, perhaps dramatically so.

It’s possible Johnson will be a Fever starter for the first month of the season while Shavonte Zellous is competing overseas with the Croatian national team. It’s possible, too, that a starting role for the team’s newcomer could continue beyond the first month.

Johnson is likely to play extensive minutes – either as a starter or a reserve – because of her ability to defend any position on the floor except center.

“Her versatility really helps our team,” said Fever star Tamika Catchings. “She fits our mold. I know for Steph, it’s another player she can develop.”

Johnson is proud of her defensive prowess. It’s something she has honed since her high school days in Henrietta, New York, and her college years at the University of Miami (Florida).

“Everybody wants to shoot the ball” Johnson said. “You have to find your niche and what makes you stand out. I never want to just be good on offense. I feel like that’s everybody. I kind of want to play both sides and make myself more appealing.”

Indiana plays its final preseason game at noon Friday against Washington at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The Fever will then hit the practice court for one more week and open the regular season June 5 at Chicago.

That’s when Johnson’s new lease on WNBA life officially begins.

“I feel I’m starting over. I really do,” she said. “I thank God for the situation I was in (at San Antonio). I was able to soak up a lot of information; I was like a sponge there. Now it’s time for me to implement that here with the Indiana Fever.”

Asked if she feels pressure to succeed in Indiana, Johnson responded quickly and emphatically.

“Of course,” she said, indicating that’s not a bad thing. “I’m coming into my fourth year. Now it’s time for me to actually make a statement.”