Selfless Assistant Coach Vickie Johnson Eager to Impact USA Women’s National Team
Johnson was elevated to USA assistant for the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament.
International team sports require a large amount of sacrifice — and checking egos at the door is undoubtedly a part of the winning formula.
While this mindset is widely accepted when it comes to Olympic-level athletes, it is also true of their coaches.
Most team sports at the Olympic level bring together coaching staffs that comprise the best of the best. Women’s basketball in the United States is no exception.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time,” said Vickie Johnson, the head coach of the WNBA’s Dallas Wings and an assistant coach on the USA Women’s National Team for this week’s FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Washington, D.C. “I’ve been involved with the game in the states and overseas for over 25 years. To be able to come here and represent my country and serve as one of the coaches here with USA Basketball is very special.”
Johnson served as a court coach with the 2019-20 national team. In this role, she helped head coach Dawn Staley and assistant coaches Cheryl Reeve and Dan Hughes with whatever they needed — on and off the court.
This time around, Johnson has been promoted to assistant coach under Reeve, who is now the head coach of the team. While the players will receive the headlines, and Reeve will generate any coaching accolades, Johnson is perfectly content to play whatever role the team needs to prepare for the World Cup that starts Sept. 22 in Australia.
“Whatever Cheryl needs from me, I’m willing to do it,” Johnson said. “It’s incredible and an honor to represent your country and to be surrounded by so many great players and coaches. I’m blessed to be able to return for another year.”
With the 2019-20 national team, Johnson sacrificed even more.
“I did all the scouting reports, pretty much, because I wanted Cheryl and Dan to concentrate on us winning,” Johnson said, “and if I could do that small thing for them, that’s what I focused on. I just wanted to make their job very easy so they could focus on us getting to the Olympics and winning.”
As part of the Olympic qualifying process for the 2020 Games, Johnson traveled with the national team to Argentina and Serbia. It was a blast from the past for Johnson, who played in France, Israel, Italy, Hungary and Turkey throughout her professional career.
“It was amazing,” Johnson said of the international qualifying trips. “I spent 15 years overseas, so I’m used to being overseas, but to be able to travel with the U.S. national team — the highest level of women’s basketball with the best basketball players in the world — and to win, it was different. Playing against the different national teams and seeing the respect they have for USA Basketball, it was an honor for me just to be part of it.”
Johnson would have gone to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 had not she not contracted COVID-19 prior to the games.
“I was really sick,” Johnson said, “and I still have some (residual effects from it). When it came down to it, I prayed about it, and I decided to stay home.”
The Olympic team, of course, went on to win gold in Tokyo. As the U.S. national anthem played, Johnson watched from afar with enormous pride.
“I was just a little piece of the puzzle,” Johnson said. “The players are the ones who won it. I was proud because I know all the preparation, practicing, film, just making the sacrifices being away from their family and friends. They came in with one common goal each training camp and accomplished that goal.”
That goal is one that she hopes the recently assembled USA World Cup Qualifying Team can accomplish later this year. The first step was this week’s training camp. The next step is the qualifying games against Belgium on Feb. 11 and Puerto Rico on Feb. 12. Then comes the World Cup this fall. Although the U.S. is playing in the qualifying games, the team is already qualified for the World Cup by merit of being the reigning Olympic champion.
“I’m excited to watch them come together as a team,” Johnson said. “This team is different from the previous teams. There’s no Sue Bird. There’s no Diana Taurasi. We’re looking for new leaders, and I’m anxious to see who’s going to step up. I want everyone to be the best version of themselves individually and as a team — and to help us achieve our goal, which is to win.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.