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AMES — After Seanna Johnson was snubbed on the preseason all-Big 12 team last year, Bill Fennelly slipped a note into her practice-facility locker.
At its core, the note — which also listed the players selected to that honor — was to remind her it’s more important to look at where you finish rather than where you start.
“That did piss her off. It really did,” Fennelly, who is entering his 22nd year as Iowa State’s women’s basketball coach, said at media day Thursday. “Some kids are like, ‘That’s OK, they didn’t mean it.’ She was not happy. And I wasn’t happy.
“Kind of spurring that and stoking that fire in her a little bit wasn’t hard but it was something she stuck in her locker and I think she looked at it not every day maybe, but quite a bit.”
Now Johnson enters her senior season with the distinction of being selected to the preseason all-Big 12 team, which was announced Wednesday.
She was an all-Big 12 first-team pick after her junior year, averaging 17 points and 9.4 rebounds. The Brooklyn Park, Minn., native ranks 22nd in ISU history in career points (1,156), eighth in rebounds (797) and fourth in double-doubles (27), but is looking for more.
“I just think it’s the little things that matter for me,” Johnson said. “It’s not even just on the court, but off the court as well. I know I have to be a better teammate and strive to become a better person.”
Johnson put the work in on the court this summer, too. Dribbling and 3-point shooting were her main focus, and she hasn’t discounted what an injury-free offseason has helped her do.
Fennelly remarked this is probably as healthy as Johnson has been since she arrived on campus in 2013, giving her a chance to finish up her career and possibly be remembered “as one of the greatest players to ever play here.”
“You can’t put on a stat sheet how big someone’s heart is, you can’t put on a stat sheet how motivated they are, you can’t put on a stat sheet their basketball IQ,” Fennelly said. “Those things are what makes people special, and that’s what she is.”
“It’s always fun to play with people like that,” said point guard TeeTee Starks. “They make your life easy.”
Iowa State finished last season 13-17 and missed the NCAA tournament after a run of nine straight qualifying years.
The Cyclones have guards Jadda Buckley and Bridget Carleton returning with forward Meredith Burkhall and also added freshman guard Nia Washington and Vanderbilt graduate transfer Heather Bowe in hopes of shoring up depth concerns.
With more options around her than this time last year, the 5-foot-10 Johnson knows a lot of the weight on getting back to the NCAA tournament starts with her living up to expectations.
“I know (pressure) helps me in a way,” Johnson said. “I love Coach (Fennelly) getting on me and little things like that so it’ll help me just become a better person and better player.”
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