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What Drives Jenna?

Oct 24, 2022

No, I'm not talking about the Hyundai her parents drove 1,200 miles from Minnesota to Salt Lake so she could have a car. It's named Chanel, by the way. It had to have a "fancy" name because it's so shiny.
Not talking about the Hyundai.
What makes her tick?
Sure, on the outside she's 6'2" Jenna Johnson from Minnesota. She earned All-Pac 12 freshman team honors last season after averaging 12 points and four rebounds per game. But everyone knows that.
Spend a little time with her and you see she's down to earth and humble. You'll get an eye roll at the mere idea of fame or being recognized. She'll probably cringe a bit just reading this story about herself.
Her nails are neatly painted neon orange (not atomic tangerine. important distinction.) because the shade best represents Halloween – a holiday she doesn't like but she wants to be festive.
Dig a little deeper and you learn that she doesn't watch tv because she simply doesn't have the time for it. Basketball and school – an iconic duo for a college hooper. Country music gets her going and every blue moon her team lets her blast some Jason Aldean in the gym. Maybe a song or two.
To be honest with you, Jenna is stoic. She admittedly never gets too high or too low. "I'm very level-headed and steady as a person off and on the court," she says. "I'm not super emotional and just try to be consistent. You're not going to get one Jenna one day and another the next."
Ask her about personal goals and watch her eyes search for something to say. You could literally be speaking a different language. It's all about the team for Jenna.
"For me, it's literally do whatever I can do to help the team," she says. "If I need to score 'x' number of points, ok cool, but if it means supporting my teammates and being a vocal leader then I'll do that too. Just anything we need as a team, I'll do."
"She's a great teammate," says fellow sophomore Gianna Kneepkens. "She is always willing to do the things that help our team succeed. Her determination has a big impact on all of us."
The selflessness isn't lost on her head coach, Lynne Roberts, either. Coach "Rob" has coached hundreds of players during her 25 years on the bench but there's something special about Jenna. When asked about her sophomore forward, she grins and ponders how to describe her. "In a word, she's incredibly reliable," Roberts says. "You don't get to coach kids like (Jenna) very often. They don't come every class. She has a great heart for others and is just a really, really good person."
Watching Jenna on the court is where the picture starts to get clearer.
Practice for the Utes is fun to watch. Cowbells and air horns fill the air. (They're loud.) Coaches are yelling, clapping and instructions are flying everywhere. Players are diving for loose balls and fighting for every inch – you can almost hear fresh bruises being formed. Scrimmages are intense – especially when against male counterparts. Nobody backs down – definitely not Jenna.
On a sprint down the court, Jenna is trailing the play and gets the ball in the paint. On her way to the hoop, she crashes into a set defender and they both fall to the ground in a collision. Hello again, fresh bruises. She gets up, helps the defender up and works the kink out of her shoulder. On to the next play. She's right – she doesn't get emotional on the court.
While scrimmage is fun, it's the shooting drills near the end of practice that paint the best picture. She gets shots up working her way across the three-point line and, by my count, hits eight triples in a row, nine out of 10. (Maybe that orange polish is for all the buckets?) No big deal. She doesn't make a peep. Then it's her turn to rebound for her teammate. She gets loud, shouting out encouragement and praise for her team.
Right there, that's what drives Jenna.
Sure, she wants to win and have fun doing it but it's about the team. It's about developing as a person and helping others be their best selves.
"For me success isn't quite about what you do on the court but how you develop as a person," Johnson says. "It's not…let's make the best basketball players but let's help people and prepare them for life. Be a mentor and have them know they always have someone in their corner."
Sounds sort of like a coach, doesn't it?
Jenna isn't quite sure if coaching is in her future, but it certainly could be if she decided to go that way.
"She's really smart," says Roberts. "She's level-headed off the court and on. She's very consistent and to be a good coach you need to be. I could totally see her coaching if she wanted to pursue that. She'd be great."
Being organized on the court is a strength of Jenna's but it may not come close to her organizational skills in life. Johnson was given the moniker, "team mom" as a freshman.
She'd create shared Google calendars and put everyone's class and practice schedules on it. She'd tag friends letting them know what activities and appearances they needed to do. She always made sure everyone was on time and on road trips, if the team had a question about anything they'd just say, "ask Jenna!"
Johnson couldn't be more excited about the upcoming season and wants to build off the NCAA tournament victory the team had last year.
When you look up in the Utes practice gym at the banners and the victory milestones there's a big empty circle underneath "2006" – on the Sweet 16 banner. The last time the Utes made it that far in the tournament.
They look at it daily and it's a constant reminder to push harder and be their best.
"We want to be ranked in the top 25 all season and the Sweet 16, that's the goal. Making it would be so huge," she says.

It'll be fun watching the Utes chase their goals this season. One thing is for sure, they have a special player in Jenna Johnson - who was recently named to the pre-season All-Pac-12 Team.
The Utes tip off their season on November 7 at home against Idaho.