By Dylan Manfre
The nation’s leading scorer and Rider women’s basketball program legend is making the jump to the WNBA.
Rider guard Stella Johnson was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the 29th overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft on April 17. The draft was conducted virtually because of the coronavirus and broadcasted on ESPN.
She was on a Zoom call with her teammates and the incoming women’s basketball commits when she saw her name appear on the lower part of her TV screen.
Even though she is from a mid-major school, she wants Phoenix to know she can play with the best in the league.
“When I go into training camp — hopefully, there is one — even though I’m from a mid-major, I can still play with the best freakin’ players in the country,” Johnson said via Zoom. “I just want to show them that I can actually play and they can’t judge the school I came from.”
Head Coach Lynn Milligan also believed Johnson was overlooked in the draft.
“All we needed was to hear her name and kudos to Phoenix for doing some homework behind the scenes and giving Stella the opportunity to show what she can do,” Milligan said.
Johnson is the first Rider women’s basketball player to get drafted to the league.
“For her to go [from] where she started and to end up being drafted by the WNBA, says something about Stella,” Milligan said. “I think it says something about how we do things at Rider. Like Stella said, she may have been looked over from the name on the front of her jersey but … there’s a lot of great mid-major players out there that all they need is an opportunity.”
Milligan said that when she sent information on Johnson to WNBA teams throughout the season, Phoenix always responded.
Milligan said that one of her first orders of business, when she is allowed to return to Rider, is to retire Johnson’s No. 4 jersey.
Last season the Mercury went 15-19 led by Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Being with players of their caliber has yet to set in for the new WNBA rookie. They also acquired
“I think it set in, when I first saw Phoenix, the first person I thought of was Taurasi,” Johnson said. “You always see her on the court and on the TV. Just seeing them in person I’m going to be a bit starstruck at first but I’m going to have to cut that out real quick.”
Phoenix also selected Jocelyn Willoughby at No. 10 overall, Te’a Cooper at No. 18 overall along with the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Player of the Year.
Johnson led Rider to its first conference title and NCAA Tournament berth during her senior season.
Johnson sat atop the NCAA scoring ladder for 15 of the 18 weeks in the regular season, ending the year at 24.8 points per game.
During her senior campaign, Johnson became Rider’s all-time leader in steals and passed Debbie Snyder for most career points.
She ended her career with 2,167 points. She also holds the record for most points scored in a single game (41 vs. Lipscomb) and in a conference tournament game (37).
Those 37 points concluded her illustrious career at Rider after the coronavirus canceled the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament on March 12 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Johnson was not heavily recruited out of high school and Rider was the lone program to offer her a scholarship. She wants this moment to be an example that kids don’t need to go to the most well-known schools to be successful.
“If you got to a school that just has, like the shooting gun, or just has the assets for you to be able to work, I think you can make your dream happen with anything,” Johnson said.
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