It seemed unlikely at the start of the season, but the DeLaSalle girls’ basketball team has made itself relevant in the discussion among the best Class 3A teams in the state. And the Islanders are doing it largely without Hall of Fame coach Faith Johnson Patterson on the sidelines.
Johnson Patterson has been out on medical leave all season, dealing with myriad health issues. Her husband, John Patterson, who has been an assistant coach with Faith throughout her coaching career at DeLaSalle and previously at Minneapolis North, has handled the head coaching duties.
“It’s been so many things,” Johnson Patterson said. “I had surgery for herniated discs in my back and neck and on the ulnar nerve in my elbow. And then there’s tendinosis in my achilles [tendon]. And Padget’s disease in my bones. It’s been a tough year.”
Not surprisingly, the Islanders started slowly, losing four of their first five games. But they haven’t lost since Dec. 23, ripping off a 16 consecutive victories heading in Tuesday night’s game at Providence Academy.
Despite the health problems, Johnson Patterson has kept close tabs on her team. Saying she hoped to be cleared to return to coaching by March 15, she has been able to occasionally attend practice and a few games. And, of course, with her husband as coach, she’s aware of everything that goes on with the team.
“I think that they’ve bonded together watching what I’ve been going through,” Johnson Patterson said. “They’ve seen me as a person instead of a coach.”
She also credited the assistant coaches for the team’s development.
“Tyrai Ross and Daria Frazier have stepped up quite a bit. And we’ve had Alexis Gray-Lawson, who played in the WNBA, has been in a lot and really helped out.”
From her more distant vantage point, Johnson Patterson said, she’s seen her team evolve and become a team less reliant on individuals and succeed by sharing the spotlight. Three players — senior Taylor Toney and juniors Teja Bodden and Camryn Speese — average between 11 and 13 points per game. Four others average more than seven points a game.
“It’s a different team,” she said. “It’s a different player every night. We’ve got seven or eight players who can score 15, 20 points.”
Johnson Patterson said she told the team it’s just a matter of time before others start taking noticing.
“I told them to keep making noise,” she said. “Keep pressing forward. The closer they get [to their goal], the louder the noise becomes.”