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UNM women’s hoops: Injured sophomore to go on Mormon mission

Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson couldn’t help wondering whether her second season-ending injury happened for a reason.

A redshirt sophomore for the University of New Mexico women’s basketball team, Johnson suffered a fluke Achilles tendon tear while running summer sprints. The ensuing surgery meant Johnson would miss the 2013-14 season.

This, after she sat out all but two games of 2011-12 season because of an ACL tear.

So sometime during her hours riding stationary bikes and watching teammates practice from a nearby elliptical, Johnson started thinking about long-term plans. Hers have since changed.

A lifelong Mormon, Johnson will serve an 18-month church mission in Mexico starting in early 2014. She’ll miss next season and plans to return for her sophomore year of eligibility in 2015-16.

“I will be kind of an older woman then,” Johnson said with a smile. “But I’ll come back 100 percent healed and have three more years here. I feel good about it.”

Johnson, a 6-foot-2 post from Highland, Utah, was less at ease when she initially told Lobos coach Yvonne Sanchez of her plans.

“I was freaking out,” Johnson said. “My parents knew but I couldn’t tell anyone else until I told (Sanchez). I couldn’t let her hear about it through the grapevine.”

Sanchez was entirely supportive, Johnson said.

“Whit was kind of sheepish when she came in my office,” Sanchez said, “but when she told me her plan I thought it was fantastic. I know this is important to her, and it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The timing of Johnson’s mission works out relatively well for UNM, as well. Her return will come one season after junior post Ebony Walker is scheduled to graduate.

Serving on a mission midway through her college career was not part of Johnson’s game plan until recently. After averaging 5.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 31 games last season, she expected to play extended minutes this season, perhaps as a starter.

“I always thought serving on a mission would be fun,” Johnson said, “but I expected to wait until after basketball. Once I tore my Achilles, though, I got to thinking maybe this is what I’m meant to do.”

Johnson said she discussed the idea with her religious leaders and prayed about it for weeks before coming to a decision. She has since learned her missionary service will be in and around Mexico City, an area about which she knows little.

“I’m doing a lot of research,” she said, “and trying to drill myself on Spanish. I took a class in eighth grade and another one here, but it really didn’t stick, unfortunately.”

Johnson said she’ll have time to exercise every morning and hopes to work on basketball skills on her weekly prep days.

“I’m going to pack a couple of deflated basketballs,” she said, “just in case.”

Sanchez is confident Johnson will return ready to resume her Lobo career.

“I guarantee she’ll come back in shape,” Sanchez said. “That’s just the kind of kid Whitney is.”

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