By DANNY P. SMITH
HOOVER, Ala. â€“ Mississippi State point guard Diamber Johnson is being looked upon as a leader and she doesn't want to let anyone down.
The senior from Pontotoc had a tougher than normal day at practice with the Lady Bulldogs on Wednesday and had to check herself after coach Sharon Fanning-Otis didn't like her body language.
Being more consistent with her emotions and play on the court is something Johnson has worked on since arriving at MSU in 2008.
"(Wednesday) was a down day for me and I was really drained," Johnson said. "(Fanning-Otis) said that this is the first negative thing I've seen from you since we started practicing. Once that happened, I said to myself, 'this can't happen.' I knew the team can't see this because the teams goes as I go.
"Something she got onto me when I first got here about wearing my emotions on my sleeve and facial expressions. When something is not going right, (Fanning-Otis) would say to not let anyone else know how I'm feeling. That's something she's helped with the most and she cares about all of the little stuff. She's helping us grow into women."
Fanning-Otis said Johnson took the steps necessary to becoming a leader as the Lady Bulldogs won three of the final four games last season.
Johnson developed a "no fear" attitude which is something Fanning-Otis says a point guard needs.
"At the end of the year, Diamber was taking the ball to the rim and not worried about getting hit," Fanning-Otis said. "She was shooting more free throws and took it on her back. If she had the open shot, she was going to take it and was not worried about a miss.
"If you are playing to win, you're not worried about what's going to happen if you don't do something. You are going to do it, take the result and if it's not what you want, you are going to get right back up quicker and not let anyone see you sweat. You are going to work hard, you are going to bow up and show toughness. That way when you walk on the floor, they will know you are confident and expect to win. If she brings that to the table every day, this basketball team will get better."
Johnson led MSU with a personal-best 12.8 scoring average. She also had career-highs in rebounds (97), assists (127), blocks (9) and steals (32).
In the assists department, Johnson claimed the third-most assists by a Lady Bulldog junior and the fourth-most in the Southeastern Conference last season.
"She's one of the dynamic players in the league," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She can beat you off the dribble and make 3-point shots. She's always a handful and I think Diamber is one of the better point guards in the league."
Johnson said she can't remember a time when she didn't have a basketball in her hands.
The game served as an option for Johnson when it was needed.
"I was young and didn't know what was going on so I found something that I liked and went with it," Johnson said. "It was something I picked up and did it on my own."
When Johnson became a senior at Pontotoc, it became clear to her that basketball was something she could take to the next level.
Even though she received a couple of letters from Ole Miss initially, the indications of Johnson's worth in college began to pick up when she started seeing the coaches in the gym, then they were calling and wanted tapes.
"That's when I knew that this was going to happen and I was going to be somewhere when this is over," Johnson said.
After Johnson signed and arrived at Mississippi State, her college career got off to a slow start, mainly because a point guard was already in place with Marneshia Richard.
"I didn't come in expecting to play so therefore I didn't really work because Marneshia was there and she played 40 minutes a game," Johnson said. "I was going to sit and learn, but the opportunity came because she was hurt and I was forced. I wasn't ready, but I was a basketball person so I did what I had to do and I worked extra hard."
Now the Lady Bulldogs depend on Johnson to be the players helping a run to a championship.
It's not a thought the opponents that stand in the way want to have.
"She's tough to guard, has such an upside athletically and is very talented," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "As she's gotten more consistent and that usually comes with maturity, she will be tougher to guard and will have a big impact on their team."