Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Jaclyn Johnson
Growing up in Burbank, California, former Kansas women’s basketball player Jaclyn Johnson never imagined she’d be suiting up in the Crimson and Blue to pursue her college basketball career.
As her high school career came to a close, the 6-1 forward wasn’t considering playing for the Jayhawks. Little did she know that the birthplace of basketball would win her over during a campus visit.
“I told myself there was no way I was going to the Midwest, but they (the Kansas coaching staff) just wouldn’t stop calling me,” Johnson said. “Then when I went on my campus visit, I fell in love with it. I wouldn’t have gotten that same experience had I gone to UCLA or USC, so that really impressed me. The coaching staff was also excellent. That also played a factor in my decision to go to Kansas.”
Right away Johnson experienced the rivaled tradition of Kansas basketball and felt the never-ending expectation for success as her team advanced to the Sweet 16 in the first year of her college campaign.
During that 1998 NCAA run, Johnson averaged 10.0 points per game and she led KU with 18 points versus Arkansas in the West Regional semifinals. Although she made memories on the court, perhaps her favorite ones were off the court with fellow teammates.
“That was a big deal for me because it was my freshman year,” Johnson said. “To accomplish something like that was huge. No one thought we would make it that far. As a freshman, I don’t think I had a clear understanding about what it was all about.”
During her four years as a Jayhawk (1997-2001), Johnson made her way into the record books. Not only is she a member of the 1,000-point club, but she also ranks fifth on KU’s all-time rebounding list with 846 boards. The California native was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2000 and 2001.
She attributes her success to the coaching staff and her teammates. Being a part of a team and accomplishing goals as a together was all she hoped for when she committed to Kansas — not to achieve personal records.
“I went to Kansas to be a part of a team and rich tradition,” Johnson said. “The things that led to my accomplishments on the court, that was great, but it wasn’t about me as an individual. I can’t take credit for scoring those points or grabbing those rebounds without my teammates. They had to trust me. Playing on a team where everyone shared success enabled me to go far.”
Not only did Johnson make her way into Kansas history, but so did her coach. Johnson played for Marian Washington, who led the Jayhawks for 31 years. During her tenure, she tallied a 60.7 win percentage with an overall record of 560-363.
“Coach Washington was an excellent coach. I didn’t quite understand how lucky I was at the time,” Johnson said. “I was blessed to be able to play for a coach who was as talented as she was. She just cared about us. It was more than just basketball for her. I think that is was made it more than just basketball for all of us in the program, because it started from the top down.”
Washington helped Kansas to six conference tournament championships and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. Under her guidance, the Jayhawks also posted their first season with 20 or more wins (1977-78).
“To me, she had a lot to do with building the program to what it is today,” Johnson said. “She was also an advocate for women coaches and making sure they got equal pay. There are so many things she was a part of, it’s phenomenal.”
The Orlando Miracle picked Johnson as the 42nd overall pick in the 2001 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Draft. She is one of nine Jayhawks to have played in the league.
“The biggest part that I enjoyed was the relationships I was able to build,” Johnson said. “You have the best kids from all of these different schools coming to play on one team. Everyone brings something different and that was cool to see.”
After her time with the Miracle, Johnson moved on to play overseas in Turkey for a few months. She then came back to the States and was picked up by the Washington Mystics in 2005.
“Playing overseas was neat too because I got to travel from country to country,” Johnson said. “I can’t say that I would have traveled to all the countries that I’ve been to had it not been for basketball and had I not played at Kansas. Having the career that I had all started at Kansas. The coaches, especially Coach Washington, made it possible with everything they did for me.”
Johnson currently works at the Santa Monica Community College, where she is in charge of athletic event management and athletic equipment. She is also the assistant women’s basketball coach at Pierce Community College.
“Coaching is a way for me to give back to student-athletes and stay active around the game,” Johnson said. “I don’t play basketball much anymore. I think my knees have had enough pounding for a lifetime, so I just shoot around with the kids that I coach, but no playing for me.”
Looking back on her time at Kansas, Johnson said there’s only one thing she wished she had done differently; spent more time enjoying her experiences.
“If I could give advice to myself as a freshman, I would say, ‘Take time to enjoy things a little bit more,'” Johnson said. “When I was younger, I didn’t stop to think ‘Maybe I should enjoy this more.’ I didn’t ever think twice about taking all of it in, especially how lucky I was to be exposed to all of the opportunities that basketball gave me as an athlete.”
During her time in the Crimson and Blue, Johnson helped to build a Kansas program that fans know and love today. Along with the help of her teammates and coaches, she earned a spot in the all-time record book and garnered many other accolades. It’s student-athletes like Johnson who have made women’s basketball such a great tradition at Kansas.
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk