Kennitra Johnson didn’t know whether or not she would even been invited back to join the Huskies’ 1999-00 national team this week for their induction into the Huskies of Honor program. There was a get-together at coach Geno Auriemma’s house Tuesday night and a ceremony at halftime of Wednesday’s showdown between UConn and Stanford.
Johnson spent just two seasons with the Huskies, opting to transfer to Purdue following the 2000-01 season. But when she received a phone call from Sarah Darras, Geno’s right-hand woman, weeks ago regarding the event Johnson was ecstatic.
“I had no idea, but when Sarah called me there was no hesitation,’’ Johnson said. “I was going to come. I felt honored that they invited me. I didn’t know with me leaving. But with this school and this whole thing, once you’re a part of it you’re always going to be a part of it no matter what. That’s the beauty of it. So for them to invite me back was awesome.’’
Johnson’s decision to leave UConn had nothing to do with UConn itself. It was a personal decision. At the time she needed to return closer to her home in New Albany, Ind. to be with her mother, Charlotte Sutton, who was going through a difficult time.
Johnson, who eventually transferred to Division II Southern Indiana in 2002, said she has no regrets about the path her career took. She thoroughly enjoyed her time at UConn.
“I was 19, 20 years old trying to deal with a lot stuff with my mom,’’ Johnson said. “So no I don’t (have any regrets) because I felt like that was the best decision for me at that time. The two years that I was here I made great connections with a lot of people and then at that point I had to go. So I can’t go back and say `what if’ because that wouldn’t get me anywhere. But I enjoy my life. I do a job that I like.’’
Johnson was admittedly a bit nervous as she walked into Auriemma’s house Tuesday, not knowing quite what to expect. But upon seeing her old friends and coaches her nervousness subsided.
She even joked with associate head coach Chris Dailey about having to cover up the tattoo on her arm with a band-aid at games.
“It’s been 10 years since I’ve been back up here,’’ Johnson said. “So to walk into Coach’s house and see him and to see all the players I was overwhelmed, actually. It was a good feeling, though.’’
Currently, Johnson teaches physical education/health at her alma mater, New Albany High School. She helped out with the varsity girl’s basketball program the last two years, but she said she is not coaching this year.
Johnson said she still follows the Huskies.
“I’ll always be a part of UConn,’’ Johnson said. “It was one of the best times of my life. And to come back and to see Sue (Bird) and to see Asjha (Jones) and all these guys it really means a lot to me.’’
Svetlana Abrosimova received arguably the loudest ovation when the players were announced during the ceremony. She has always been a fan favorite.
Abrosimova is currently playing for UMMC in her native Russia. Jones is again her teammate, vying against Bird and Diana Taurasi and Moscow Spartak.
“That’s like my first reunion in life,’’ Abrosimova said. “I’ve never had a family reunion or anything like that. So, for me, when I walked in Coach’s house (Tuesday) night I saw all these people with families and kids. It’s really special. You realize how much these people mean to you. Yeah, we have our own lives now. Everybody’s on different levels and in different countries, but at the same time you have that special bond. And that separates you from other people.’’
Of course, Auriemma razzed her a bit. But Abrosimova said that “he tried to be nice to me because I just landed in the country a couple hours ago.’’
Abrosimova also took some time to relay what she remembers most from her career with the Huskies.
“Fighting with Coach all the time,’’ Abrosimova said. “Yeah, that was the No. 1 thing. I changed here a lot. I became more American, but at the same time I learned how to cherish my Russian roots too because you know you’re different when you come here and when you’re getting adapted to a new environment you learn how to find new people, new friends and Coach is like my second father to me. So it’s really special. When you play here and then you meet other players who played in different schools you just feel different. And you know that’s because that’s UConn. UConn’s tradition. He made us approach games, approach practices, time management, leadership … All the little things and you’re really different from everybody else.’’
Here’s another reminder … I will be conducting my weekly live chat Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. I hope to see you then.
Also, I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy the time spent with family and friends over the next few days.