James Membreno/ Courier Dariel Johnson (33) scores over 2 San Diego City College defenders on Thursday, November 8, 2019 at the Hutto-Patterson Gym.
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Success as a Lancer student-athlete requires balance, talent, and sacrifice. Dariel Johnson, PCC’s star women’s basketball forward, readily sacrificed for her success by cutting down time with  friends and family. She sold her car. She even decided to leave California and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to sign the lease on a new apartment to attend a university with a scholarship she didn’t even know she was going to receive.

This scholarship was the NCAA Division I scholarship that would only be granted if her medical hardship was approved by the NCAA. This approval was something she had been fighting for, taking countless time and energy into documentation and paperwork, during her comeback after a four-year absence.

“But God is good,” said Dariel Johnson remembering the moment she found out.

“I was so excited when I found out. Actually the day I found out was like, it wasn’t like one of the greatest days for me, you know? It was a super hard practice, and just like, mentally tiring,” said Johnson.

“And after practice my coach called me in the office and he was like, ‘I got some good news for you.’ 

“And I’m like, ‘Okay,’ you know, not really in a good mood. And he’s like, ‘They’re gonna approve your medical hardship and give you your two years back.’

“‘Thank you, God.’ I was praying about this and it really did pick my mood up. I was so happy.” 

Johnson’s basketball career started in the summer of 2009 before entering high school where she played all four years. After that she took a year off school then attended Pasadena City College in 2014. She started her life as a Lancer athlete but then had a severe concussion in her third game. This took her out of school and sports for four years.

She came back to PCC in 2018 to continue her basketball career.

However, because Johnson began playing in 2014, that’s when her clock started ticking. When a student-athlete starts playing basketball at a junior college and is a full-time student their clock starts; you have five years to play four years of basketball. 

Technically Johnson’s five years were over. Considering this, the NCAA had to grant her clock to start in 2018 rather than 2014. The time between her concussion and her return to PCC created such a time leap that when she started going back to play basketball four years later, her clock was supposed to be done.

Paperwork had to be completed (such as written letters from herself, family, and friends) and sent into the NCAA to prove she had a concussion and that she didn’t enroll in school during those four years anywhere in the country. Without this proof she would not be eligible to play again. The process was long, tedious, and without guarantee.

Johnson was away from Lancer life for four years after her concussion but when she returned to PCC she brought game. In no time, her athletic success took her further than the game. It was bringing a plethora of opportunities and the burden of stardom. Over the two years at PCC she was hounded by many schools pressuring her to sign even knowing it would be a process to get medical clearance. 

After just her first year California schools especially tried to pressure her, saying, “You have two weeks to sign or we’re gonna have to find someone else to get your scholarship.”

“The offers were kind of stressful because at one point I had coaches calling me every single day. Especially during finals, you had to tell them, ‘I’m in school and I’m going to talk to you after I take all my finals.’ 

“After all my finals it’s like, soon as you think you can take a breath and a couple weeks of summer vacation, they’re still calling you everyday and trying to get you to sign, and trying to tell you more about their school and what they have to offer. I want to enjoy my summer. I don’t want to be pressured,” said Johnson.

California, Mississippi, Idaho, Montana, and many other schools that contacted her were in the middle of nowhere. One university did not pressure Johnson relentlessly: The University of Arkansas.

Johnson’s method of selection rested on location. She knew she didn’t want to go anywhere where it snowed and she didn’t want to stay in California. She also considered the living situation, the condition of each school’s dorms, the number of people she would live with and even if she had to share a restroom.

“I don’t wanna just live in a dorm and share a bathroom with like eight to ten people, you know?”

She began speaking to the University of Arkansas in May/June 2020. 

After considering these elements, she felt Little Rock was perfect. 

“I just felt everything here clicked for me,” said Johnson.

In late Spring the University of Arkansas told Johnson she could move anytime between the fifth and the seventeenth and begin practicing with them but there was no guarantee that her hopes would come into fruition.

On August 5 she moved out to Arkansas, excited and uncertain, on a leap of faith.

Johnson received the NCAA’s approval for her medical hardship one week after moving to Arkansas and playing with the Little Rock Trojans. The recruitment process started in July: she had a zoom call with all the coaching staff and her mom. After the call her mom and she were convinced this was the route to pursue. 

“I started practicing with them four days after I moved here, after my coronavirus came back negative. They told me, ‘you can practice and everything but if the NCAA doesn’t approve your medical hardship we can’t give you a scholarship,’” she said, “I wouldn’t have been able to play basketball or go to school because out of state fees are super high.”

After overcoming the hurdles of medical recovery, rebuilding her basketball career, and navigating the pressure from recruitment she at last found her university of choice. Now came the academics of maintaining her commitment.

Johnson was prepared for the rigorous curriculum of a university. Her GPA averaged over 3.3-3.6 and she was taking 18-19.3 units a semester at PCC. In Arkansas the team takes 15 units and are required to have study hall every day. 

Johnson has become accustomed to her new home.

“I enjoy it here and the time goes by faster because we move much quicker. We do drills. and we get through the drills, and then we’re playing two on two, three on three, four on four, and five on five for the majority of the practice, breaking down drills – I like it here!”

Johnson and her teammates all live in the same apartment complex and everybody has a teammate that they room with. Each complex has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. They get along very well on and off the court.

“It’s really been fitting like a gel.”

“It’s so surreal. Sometimes I just sit back and just think about it. I’m so grateful and overwhelmed because I’ve been through so much in my life that I didn’t even think it was possible at one time for me to even go back to school, let alone be able to go back to school and do something I love – play basketball – and that leads me to be able to have a scholarship? It’s like a movie. And to be able to go to school without having to take out a student loan is just a blessing.”

Johnson credits much of her resiliency and trust to her family’s dedication to faith and growing up in the church. Her grandmother was a pastor, her grandfather is a bishop and they have a church. She learned perseverance by watching her grandmother and observing how her mom imitated her grandmother. 

“She has the biggest heart. Even when faced with trials and tribulation she perseveres and keeps moving on,” said Johnson, “We don’t allow it to keep us in the same place,’ Grandmother always said, ‘You have to go through it, you don’t get stuck in it.’”

Johnson’s major is Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Psychology, Criminal Justice and History.

“I came out here hopeful, I came out here eager to play, and I came out here excited because I knew if you activate your faith it’s bound to happen.”

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