Women’s Basketball: Q&A: Illinois basketball great Brittany Johnson joins Northwestern as assistant coach

A profile photo

Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

Brittany Johnson. The former Ohio State standout is leading the Cats on the sidelines this season.

Kate Walter, Assistant Sports Editor

Brittany Johnson left her mark on Illinois high school basketball. 

She was the first basketball player in Illinois history to score more than 4,000 points. She earned the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year Award and was named Miss Basketball in 2007. She was inducted into Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018. 

Now, back in her home state after 15 years away, Johnson joined Northwestern as a women’s basketball assistant coach this year. Prior to NU, Johnson served as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for nine seasons and had a dynamic, All-Big Ten career at Ohio State.

“If you can’t beat them, hire them,” Coach Joe McKeown said. “She just brings a lot of energy … she’s jumped right in recruiting and working with our players.”

The Daily spoke with Johnson about what she is looking forward to this season, Big Ten play, her coaching style and more. 

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: How has your experience at Northwestern been so far? 

Johnson: The staff, coach Tang (Tangela Smith), coach McKeown and the rest of them have really welcomed me (with) open arms. Anything that I need help with they’re there for, learning the system. They have done a phenomenal job.

The Daily: What’s it like being back in Illinois as a coach?

Johnson: It’s great. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back in my home state. (I’m) still not used to the weather yet. I’ve been pretty spoiled with the Tennessee weather, but it’s nice to be back. 

The Daily: You’re familiar with the Big Ten, having played at Ohio State. How are you bringing your experiences playing in the Big Ten to coaching a Big Ten team?

Johnson: The Big Ten’s really physical, a lot of great players, great shooters. (Things like) getting their shots off quickly because it’s a fast-paced conference, finishing guards, finishing at the rim with contact. It’s a great conference, and I’m excited to be back in it.

The Daily: You and Maggie Lyon are both first-year assistant coaches. Have you been showing each other the ropes?

Johnson: Definitely. We’ll ask each other questions, because she actually played for Coach McKeown, so she knows his systems, his philosophy. If I have a question, she’s there, and if she has a question, (I’m there). So yeah, we definitely found each other.

The Daily: What are you looking forward to this upcoming season?

Johnson: Everything — being back in the Big Ten and at this Power-Five level. I’m looking forward to every little thing, learning under Coach McKeown, learning from Coach Tang (Tangela Smith), and just kind of bringing it to my game as far as like coaching style. I’m excited for it.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @katewalter03

Related Stories: 

Veronica Burton grows Texas-sized Wings

Women’s Basketball: Northwestern hires Maggie Lyon as assistant coach

Women’s Basketball: Kate Popovec named head coach of Bradley women’s basketball