Diamond Johnson, now a college student — officially, a Rutgers freshman already, since she’s taking an online math class this summer — normally would be up on campus by now, except the pandemic has her home in North Philadelphia.
“I do watch a lot of basketball,” Johnson said this week. “Watching college games from the previous season. Watching some Rutgers games. Some Maryland, South Carolina, Baylor.”
She now gets to a gym a couple of times a week with one of her AAU coaches, but that wasn’t possible for weeks during the pandemic. Still, no games yet.
“I just really missed playing,” Johnson said.
It didn’t really matter that Johnson was the Gatorade state player of the year the last two seasons. The coronavirus pandemic had her in the same small space as everyone else.
“I was kind of losing it,” Johnson said. “I was just bored. I knew we were going to be in this for quite a long time. I found little things to do. I ran a lot, lifted a little weight. Read a couple of books.”
A book on leadership hit home, about taking responsibility, making everyone around you successful.
Johnson still is scheduled to get to Rutgers for the fall semester. That at least is the current plan, even though most fall classes will be online. Right now, her team convenes for video meetings.
When it comes to missing things during the pandemic, Johnson has some big ones. Although she was snubbed for the McDonald’s All-American Game — causing an uproar, with even South Carolina coach Dawn Staley weighing in to say this was wrong — Johnson was named for the Jordan Brand all-star game, and then came something completely different …
“We were at practice. Coach P asked, ‘Could I stick around?’ " Johnson said, referring to Neumann-Goretti High coach Andrea Peterson, who asked her to get her phone out of the locker room.
“I was just confused,” Johnson said. “I never have my phone at practice.”
She got her phone.
“My phone rang,” Johnson said. “I think it was my Mom.”
That wasn’t the call that had been set up.
“Ten minutes later, Iverson called,” Johnson said. “I was just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
Her teammates were taking video. Johnson got a little emotional right off the bat.
“What up?” Allen Iverson said. “What’s happening?”
“We just finished practice,” Johnson said.
“Practice?” Iverson said, cracking everyone up.
Iverson was inviting her to play in his all-star game — against some of the top male players on the East Coast, the first female invitee ever.
Diamond had played against guys her entire life. This, however, was going to be big. Except it didn’t happen. No Jordan game against the top women, either.
“It was very disappointing,” Johnson said. “It hurt.”
In past years, the end of one season always meant the start of another. From high school to AAU, etc. The transition to college was going to be different. This year, the situation just demanded a whole different kind of mental focus. Over time, Johnson said, her mind got a little better about this life on hold. Her secret?