BANGOR, Maine — Speedy guard Denae Johnson, who helped lead the Bangor High School girls basketball team to its first Eastern Maine Class A championship since 1982 last winter, has left the University of Southern Maine to attend Husson University in Bangor.
Johnson said that she was homesick.
“I really like it here. I like the campus, the environment and everything,” Johnson said.
“It has been a good fit so far,” added Johnson, who was also an outstanding center back/midfielder on Bangor’s three Eastern Maine Class A soccer teams and a very good track athlete as well. Bangor won the state soccer title in 2011.
The 5-foot-5 Johnson, a three-year starter at Bangor High, was chosen to the Eastern Maine Class A All-Tournament basketball team. She was a Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorable mention.
She had 17 points, seven rebounds and four steals in a 56-44 win over Mount Ararat of Topsham in the EM Class A semifinals and added 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in the 57-43 triumph over Cony High of Augusta in the EM title game.
Husson University women’s basketball coach Kissy Walker is excited to have her.
“She’s athletic, she’s quick and she’s strong,” said Walker, who is in her 23rd season at Husson. “She can really pressure the ball on defense.
“She plays the style of game I like to play when I have the right personnel … a pressing and running game. With what we have this season, that’s going to be a great fit,” added Walker, a former point guard at Cony and the University of Maine.
Walker also said Johnson is a quality person. She had recruited Johnson and knows her family.
“Her mom Beth Woodbrey-Johnson) has been my son Isaiah’s occupational therapist and she used to teach occupational therapy at Husson,” said Walker. “And Denae’s brother, Dane, used to attend the same preschool as my son.”
Walker said when Johnson decided to attend USM, “I left the door open for her [to come to Husson]. Sometimes when kids go away to school, they find out it wasn’t what they wanted.”
Johnson said playing basketball in college has been a lifelong dream.
“It’s really nice to have my dreams come true,” said Johnson, who intends to study criminal justice.
But Johnson isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I don’t know if I’m even going to be on the team. We have tryouts. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Johnson.
The other is former University of Maine-Machias standout Samira Cruz from Orlando, Fla.
The 5-foot-3 Cruz averaged 18.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assist per game for the Clippers a year ago. She averaged 10.7 points and 2.3 steals two years ago.
“[Cruz] is a [really good] player. She is a real good ball-handler who can direct the offense. She can penetrate and take the ball to the hoop,” said Walker. “She has very quick hands.”
Johnson and Cruz join promising incoming freshman guards Chandler Guerrette of Presque Isle and Amy Hilton of Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, two other players Walker is excited to have on her team.
“Last year, I didn’t have a true point guard. Kelli Murray was our point guard but it wasn’t a position of choice for her,” said Walker. “It’s different now. We’ve got four or five point guards. And I have no problem playing two point guards together. Plus it will create good competition in practice.”
Murray, who graduated, averaged 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game a year ago. Nobody else averaged over 1.7 assists or 1.6 steals.