To say Precious Johnson got thrown into the fire at Auburn would be the understatement of the year.
The 6-5 Texas transfer had announced in September of 2021 that she was going to sign with Coach Johnnie Harris and the Tigers, and would be headed to The Plains at the semester break.
Little did she know how quickly her services would be sorely needed.
“When I first got over here, I was waiting to be cleared so I couldn’t really work out,” Johnson said. “So when I first got (cleared), I was a little out of shape. I was tired, but I was excited because I was like, ‘OK, I actually got to play, I got the waiver and everything.’
“I was more determined to be in the gym because I know I had somewhere I needed to get. It made me bring back my spirit for basketball for sure.”
Upon arriving on campus in early January, Johnson had to apply for a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility. Since she entered the transfer portal before the Longhorns began practice last fall, her request for eligibility was granted on Friday, Jan. 7, two days before the Tigers were set to face LSU in their first SEC home game of the season.
Johnson was added to the official team roster late Saturday night, and she was wearing No. 51 as Auburn took the court the following afternoon. A little more than nine minutes into the game, she was on the floor for the first time as a Tiger.
“That LSU game was something,” she said, laughing. “But after watching film, I showed that I was going to work hard, no matter the circumstance or what position I’m thrown into. I’m always going to work my hardest.”
Precious Johnson got her first minutes and scored her first bucket as a Tiger on Jan. 9, 2022, vs. LSU. (Matthew Shannon/AU Athletics)
She played just under nine minutes that first outing, scoring her first bucket as a Tiger and pulling down three rebounds. Little did she know that her workload was about to get much heavier, and quickly.
Senior Kiyae’ White, Auburn’s starting post player the whole season to that point, aggravated an injury heading into Auburn’s game at Florida four days later and was unable to play. So in her second game as an Auburn Tiger – less than a week after she was cleared to practice – Precious Johnson found herself in the starting lineup.
“I was honestly super excited,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow, Coach is really going to start me.’ It made me even more determined to work hard because (I knew) people were depending on me. We had injuries going on, so I was like, ‘You’re really depending on me, so I’ve really got to work hard to be great here.”
She played 29 minutes that night with seven points and five rebounds as Auburn came agonizingly close to picking up their first SEC win, falling 68-63 in Gainesville after being unable to hold onto a late lead.
All told, she would play in 12 of the season’s final 15 games, starting eight, averaging 5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds. She will be the Tigers’ third-leading rebounder to return for 2022-23. And it was evident that her fitness level and her confidence continued to improve throughout the season – culminating in an 18-point, 10-rebound performance at Kentucky for her first career double-double.
“I think that was a game I’ll look back to and think, ‘OK, this is where you need to start from now,’” Johnson said. “It was also emotional for me, though, because it’s my first college double-double, and a couple of people that I wanted to be here aren’t here, so I was going extra hard for them. So it also made me happy at the same time.”
An 18-point, 10-rebound performance gave Precious Johnson her first collegiate double-double in the 2022 regular-season finale at Kentucky on Feb. 27. (Connor Putman/AU Athletics)
Johnson ended up at Auburn because of the relationship she was able to build with Harris in the year the two spent together at Texas in 2020-21, advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight just days before Harris would be named head coach of the Tigers.
“We built a relationship off of trust,” Johnson said of her time with Coach J. “She made sure to let me know she had my back every single time. That just made the decision earlier because I knew I could really trust her. This was the place I needed to be.”
Heading into her third season of college basketball and her first full year at Auburn, Johnson sees the hard work ahead of her and her teammates as they prepare for the grind of an SEC schedule.
“I think it’s going to get us prepared,” she said. “Some days are going to be bad, some days are going to be good. I feel like it’s going to make us a lot stronger. This is going to be my first true full season, so I’m super excited.”