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Jul. 22—Akienreh Johnson will follow in her father's footsteps as she embarks on a professional basketball career overseas.
When she was a kid, Johnson has memories of her father, Kechan, playing international basketball in Spain, Mexico, and China. The Rogers High School and University of Michigan alumna has signed her first pro deal with the Norrkoping Dolphins, which plays in the top league in Sweden.
So proud of @AkienrehJohnson and all that she has accomplished. She deserves this opportunity and I know she will shine!!! #Perseverance #leaderandbest #differencemaker #goblue #problue #4for40 https://t.co/4MCKT0x3vq
— Kim Barnes Arico (@KBA_GoBlue) July 18, 2021
"I always knew I wanted to be a pro," Johnson said. "You spend so much time and effort and energy into basketball. I didn't want it to end when I graduated college."
Kechan Johnson's previous experience helped provide insight into the international basketball signing process, the navigation of finding an agent, and how to build a personal brand.
All-State @RogersRamsSport and Big Ten All-Defensive @umichwbball, @AkienrehJohnson has always played close to home, but her next step is a giant leap across the Atlantic.
Johnson signed with Sweden's Norrköping Dolphins—a unique personal and professional challenge @BCSNsports pic.twitter.com/jiam88IlcO
— Joel Sebastianelli (@JJSebastianelli) July 17, 2021
"Having him knowing what the process is like, what it's like to be a pro, living with a pro, working out with a pro, being coached by a pro, it definitely prepared me for where I am right now," Akienreh Johnson said.
Other professional teams in Sweden were interested in her, in addition to clubs in Greece and Portugal, but the Dolphins made it clear to Akienreh Johnson she was a priority.
Dolphins coach Kevin Taylor Lundgren contacted Wolverines women's basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico about her former Big Ten All-Defensive Team player. He watched game footage, and when Lundgren and Johnson spoke on the phone, he pointed out specific plays she made that stood out to him.
It was clear Lundgren and the organization were invested in Johnson's future career.
"Akienreh will be our starting forward," Lundgren told The Blade. "She fits our way to play, being able to score both from inside and outside, while being a very good passer and rebounder."
Since she will move to a new country, without family and friends, the level of interest Lundgren showed was important to her.
"It wasn't the only factor, but it was definitely a huge factor in why I decided to go there, just because if I know he's asking questions about me, he asks them about everyone on his team," she said. "So he has everyone's best intentions at heart."
The Dolphins' successful history also played a factor in the signing process. Norrkoping is a part of the highly competitive Swedish Basketball League. The Dolphins won a championship in the 2012-13 season and had player of the years award winners in consecutive seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14). Last season, the Dolphins were the No. 5 seed in the league playoffs.
"In defense, she can guard multiple positions, and I think she is one of the best defensive players in our league," Lundgren said.
Norrkoping's history of preparing players for the next level stood out to Johnson, as well.
"They're very good with developing players, putting them in places to succeed, and that's what I definitely wanted to do leading up to making my decision," Johnson said, "and also leading up to, hopefully, into a WNBA training camp."
In her 2020-21 season, Johnson averaged 10.9 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, and recorded 20 steals.
She battled through injuries with the Wolverines, but still finished her five-year collegiate career with 871 points, 529 rebounds, 111 steals, and 29 blocks.
"For a kid to have two ACL injuries and a broken hand to just keep coming back and to keep grinding, when everything seemed to be going the wrong way, and not going her way, just speaks volumes about the person and player she is," Barnes Arico told The Blade.
Johnson will travel out to Sweden at the end of August. In the meantime, Johnson has started a YouTube channel where she'll document the process of being a professional basketball player.
"I'm making a YouTube channel to show my experience of going overseas and just what it's like being over there, the highs and lows and everything," Johnson said. "So hopefully get to come back and help people out that want to have the same journey as mine."
First Published July 22, 2021, 10:34am