Here is what Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve looks for in a player: The ability to play multiple positions. A willingness to play defense. An affinity for teammates.
And a chip placed squarely on her shoulder. Reeve likes players who feel they have something to prove.
In March, Reeve acquired guard Shenise Johnson from Indiana in a trade. In “Moe’’ — a nickname that is a shortened version of her middle name, Monet — Reeve got a 29-year-old native of New York who is able to both initiate the offense and play off-guard.
She can start guarding 90 feet from the basket. Years of competing against Johnson — who was on the floor for Indiana when Maya Moore hit that memorable buzzer-beating three-pointer in Game 3 of the 2015 WNBA Finals — has given Reeve an idea of the player she is.
And then, that chip.
“I wouldn’t say I feel I have something to prove to the world,” Johnson said by phone from Bradenton, Fla., where on Friday she took the court with her full new squad for the start of camp. “But I have something to prove to myself.”
Johnson’s career was on a steady upward trajectory when, during a practice less than halfway through the 2017 season, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Since then Johnson has played in only 17 WNBA games.
After surgery, she missed the rest of the 2017 season and all of 2018. In 2019, briefly, she felt good. But one day again in practice she felt her left knee buckle. She tried to play through the pain for a few games before shutting down for surgery to repair cartilage damage in the knee.
It was, Johnson said, a difficult three-year stretch that took her down a difficult path.
“Honestly, it was a dark, dark road,” she said. “Especially that first year. Because I had been competing at such a high level. You finally gain some of the recognition you were hoping for, and it all gets taken away. It was very mentally challenging. I had to get closer to God, center myself. And, most of all, stay engaged in the sport.”
A first-round pick by San Antonio in 2012, she was traded to Indiana before the 2015 season. She averaged 10.9 points that season — 12.4 in the playoffs — as the Fever made it to the league finals. In 2017, she was averaging career highs in points (11.3) and assists (2.5) when she was hurt.
That was three years ago, a lifetime in competitive sports like pro basketball. Enough time to go from a rising star to not being in the conversation.
But now, she has something to say about that. “We had a workout [Wednesday],” Johnson said. “It was me, Syl [Fowles] and Karima [Christmas-Kelly]. And they were saying, ‘Wow, Mo, you look great!’ That feels good.”
Johnson will be a very big part of any success Minnesota has. The Lynx will have two new starting guards at the outset of the 22-game season. One likely will be either Rachel Banham or Lexie Brown. The other one already is Johnson. There won’t be a pure point guard and off-guard in the starting lineup. The two starters will have to do a bit of both.
“I would not be surprised if you see Mo initiating some of the offense,” Reeve said. “She’s comfortable doing that. But she also has good vision. She’s a good passer.”
Johnson can set up a teammate or make her own shot. And her defense will be a plus.
The opportunity? A blessing. A support team that included her mom, her grandparents, her brother and older sister Shawntalae — a nurse at a hospital in suburban Rochester, N.Y., who works with people battling COVID-19 — helped her through the dark times. Now she’s ready for some sunshine in Florida.
She has always respected the Lynx organization, she said. Even when that was difficult; she was guarding Lindsay Whalen back in 2015 when Whalen inbounded the ball to Moore for that buzzer-beating shot. Now she wants to put the Lynx back into a position to compete at the highest level.
“Every day I look in the mirror and say: ‘The knee is OK, trust it,’ ” Johnson said. “It was rocky sometimes, getting back to this point. But I’m back. I’m here.”