Mobile, AL 2017
One thing is for certain, Cierra Johnson has persevered and overcome many obstacles in her winding road of a basketball career thus far. One of the most highly recruited guards out of high school in the class of 2016, Cierra was forced to take an unconventional route and attend JUCO at Shelton State after not qualifying for the NCAA and a scholarship offer to the University of Alabama. Johnson’s list of pre-collegiate accolades includes McDonald’s All-American, USA Today All-Alabama first team, Naismith High School All-America Watch List and Jordan Brand Classic All-American. She has now added NJCAA All-American (1st team), NJCAA All-Star Weekend MVP, ACCC Player of the Year & First Team honors to this list, while leading her team to an ACCC Championship last season.
We had a chance to catch up with Cierra for an interview about her past, present and future to better understand her story and what drives her to be great.
CRX: Growing up in Mobile, AL, how did you get started playing basketball and how old were you?
CJ: Growing up in Mobile, Al I developed the love for basketball at a very young age. My dad first put a basketball in my hand when I was 4 years old, when I first bounced a ball I was 5 and when I played my first real game, I played on an all boys basketball team.
CRX: Tell us about some of the challenges you had growing up. What was life like for you as a kid and in/through high school?
CJ: Growing up I had very dependable parents. We didn’t have much, we had a lot of struggles but my parents made sure I had everything I needed, not what I wanted. My parents invested a lot into my basketball career growing up. They may not had it all the time but they made a way to pay my fees for trips or fees for the team I was on, or sometimes people would pay for me out of the kindness of their heart because we just didn’t have it. I struggled a lot in high school, mostly with focusing on what was really important. Other than that, high school was good to me basketball was great and the people were amazing.
CRX: Take us back and walk us through your mental state when you found out you had to attend JUCO last year due to not qualifying for NCAA.
CJ: I remember sitting in my mentor’s classroom, Ms. Buchanan, when we were going over my grades discussing how I wasn’t going to qualify. I was hurt but I was more so focusing on what others were going to say. During that time I thought JUCO was going to be bad for me. I was thinking about who was going to pick me up. I didn’t have a school to attend because not qualifying was so sudden. My mental and confidence were so gone I wanted to give up because people had such high hopes for me and I felt like I let them down. But now I look at it as everything happens for a reason. God always has a plan that we all need to follow. JUCO has been the best thing that happened to me academically, mentally,socially, and has made me a better person and player.
CRX: You were selected in the JUCO All- Star Weekend and named MVP of the weekend. How was that experience and what did that mean to you?
CJ: The All- Star weekend was a great experience. I have a hard time being social but that weekend I was introduced to a lot of new people whom I still communicate with now. I am so glad I was invited to that event. When I was named MVP it meant a lot to me because even though I didn’t score a lot my intentions were to make the people around me better and I was glad my hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
CRX: What is your outlook for Shelton State this year and what are your goals as a team and individually?
CJ: Even though we lost a lot of people that were a good aspect to the team we have some key returners and some very talented freshman that can and will help us win it all. I think we all have the same team goal to WIN, to win the conference championship and the National championship. My individual goal is to be JUCO POY and to better myself as the year goes on as a person and a player.
CRX: You have achieved a lot and gained recognition as one of the best in the country. What is your ultimate goal in basketball and life?
CJ: Since I was younger I have always wanted to play Professional basketball and impact lives. My ultimate life goal would be to better my relationship with God and to help everybody know his name.
CRX: If you could speak to High School students in a similar position as you what would you tell them?
CJ: SCHOOL IS IMPORTANT!!!!!! You can not go anywhere without grades because its another athlete with better grades and the same talent as you and coaches will overlook you for them. I would also tell them you have to always work everyday to better yourself, everybody in JUCO have the same goal, to play D1 ball so you have to work and better your craft everyday. Also keep God 1st
CRX: Outside of basketball, what do you enjoy to do?
CJ: SLEEP!!!!!!!!!! Draw or hang with friends.
CRX: Who are some influential people that have helped you along the way?
CJ: I have a few people that have helped me along the way. 1. My mom and dad for believing in my dreams and investing their time in me. 2. Barbarrah Hatcher and Tamika Hardin and Toya Steile my first coaches when I was little without them I don’t think I would be the player I am today. 3. Tiffany Buchanan for helping me with my school-work, mentoring me, and being a mother figure while in school. 4. My sisters for their undying support. They support me in every decision I make. 5. Jordan LeNoir for being in my corner and helping me make decisions, supporting me, and being their for me while I’m away from home. All of these people have made a major impact in my life.
CRX: Who is Cierra Johnson?
CJ: Cierra Johnson is a girl who grew up in Happy Hill projects in Mobile, Al. She didn’t have much but she used basketball as her ticket to get her and her family out of the situation they are in now and she puts all of her trust in the lord and would do anything to give her family the world.
CRX: Who is your favorite NBA and WNBA player and why?
CJ: My favorite NBA player would be Russell Westbrook because of his drive; he plays every game like it is his last. He is loyal to his team he would give any and everything to his team, he leaves it all on the court. My favorite WNBA player would be Maya Moore, the way she plays is so smooth she is humble, and loves the game. Maya Moore is a leader, her and Russell both gives all the glory to God.
CRX: Alabama won 22 games last year, the most since 1997. How do you see yourself fitting in with Coach Curry’s system and also with the emergence of PG Jordan Lewis?
CJ: I see myself fitting into Coach Curry’s system very well, she has a will to win so do I. I feel I bring a lot of drive and I would be a great fit for the team. Jordan Lewis is a great point guard I feel we will be a good combo in the back court.
Shelton State’s first game of the season is on November 3rd at Walters State Community College for the Senators Tip Off Classic @ 5:00pm . Cierra’s long road of faith continues to transform into a testimony and body of work that will soon make her a household name in the upper echelons of Women’s collegiate and professional basketball for years to come.