NEW YORK (AP) Vickie Johnson is coming full circle.
She’ll begin her head coaching career where her WNBA playing career embarked when the San Antonio Stars visit the New York Liberty on Saturday to open the WNBA’s 21st season.
”I’m super excited,” Johnson said . ”I started in New York, played nine years. Sweated on this court for many years. I didn’t miss a lot of games here. I’m very excited to bring my team to the Garden. Talk the history, even though they’re not the New York Liberty, but the history behind this arena is amazing.”
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Johnson starred for the Liberty from 1997-2005 and helped lead the team to the WNBA Finals in four of the first six years of the league. VJ, as she’s affectionately known to her fans, was put in the team’s ring of honor in 2011 and the Liberty plan to honor her during Saturday’s game. She’s sure to get a strong reception from the fans.
”I hope so. I did it the right way when I played,” Johnson said. ”I played every possession like it was the last possession. I left everything on the court and I think New Yorkers appreciate that. I’m glad and blessed I had the opportunity to play nine years here.”
Johnson then went on to play in San Antonio for four years before becoming an assistant coach for the Stars. When former coach and general manager Dan Hughes retired after last season the Stars replaced him with Johnson as coach and Ruth Riley as general manager.
Riley and Johnson played together in San Antonio and now are the first pair of former teammates to work together in a front office/basketball operations role.
”It’s great to have Coach Johnson here in San Antonio with me,” Riley said. ”We have such history together. The teams we played on in San Antonio were teams where both of us had similar mindsets into the culture we wanted to have in San Antonio. It’s unique that we aren’t only former teammates, but also we were teammates in the franchise we currently are working for.”
The Stars had a lot of success when Johnson and Riley both played in San Antonio. They hope to get the team back there after a few disappointing seasons.
”It’s a great opportunity and we both have the passion for the game and the passion for teaching these young kids the right way to play,” Riley said.
Teresa Weatherspoon, Johnson’s former teammate, was excited that her former roommate with the Liberty would open her coaching career at the Garden.
”It’s heaven sent for her to start as a player here and her debut as a head coach in New York City with a team she played for,” said New York’s director of player and franchise development. ”She has to be extremely excited because she will have a lot of support from a lot of people here. Once a Liberty, always a Liberty.”
The Stars will be a bit short-handed for the team’s opener.
Top pick Kelsey Plum will miss Saturday’s game and most likely the second-half of the back-to-back on Sunday in Washington. She’s still recovering from a sprained right ankle and was wearing a walking boot at practice on Friday.
”It looks worse than it is,” Plum said.
The Stars hope that she may be ready for the home opener on May 19 against Phoenix.
”We’re excited to have Kelsey in San Antonio, she’s a tremendous young talent. Thankfully it’s just a sprained ankle. Recovery is relatively soon,” Riley said. ”It’s not something that we want to rush. We want her to step on the court healthy and confident when she’s able to play in her first regular season WNBA game.”
The Stars will also be missing Kayla McBride, who is still playing in the Turkish League championship. They could also be without Moriah Jefferson. The second-year guard is suffering from the flu.
”We’re a young team and we have a long season in front of us,” Johnson said. ”We’ll have everyone back at some point soon.”
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