KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In the early days of her Tennessee career, Glory Johnson had a knack for frustrating her coaches. These days they can't help but sing her praises.
"If we have to lay our hat on somebody, it's Glory Johnson," associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "She plays the game the way it should be played, with a lot of effort, a lot of heart. She plays hard every possession. She's getting beat up a little inside, but she's got a maturity about her."
The senior forward has become the ninth-ranked Lady Volunteers' most solid player this season by turning in strong performances on both ends of the court.
The Knoxville native has always been a good rebounder with a spirited attitude on the court, but as a young Lady Vol she drove coach Pat Summitt crazy with her inconsistency. Johnson would turn in a double-double performance one game and find herself in early foul trouble in the next.
Having acquired some patience and spent a lot of time in the gym, Johnson finally has realized the potential Summitt expected of her.
"I would get mad at every call," Johnson said. "You just get to a point where you realize the calls are not going to change. The refs are going to make really good calls and they're going to make really bad calls and they're going to miss things. Not everyone's perfect. Just deal with it, handle adversity and move on."
Johnson's 9.8 rebounds per game rank second in the SEC, just behind the 9.9 rebounds Nikki Byrd averages at Mississippi. Her 14.5 points per game rank fifth in the SEC, and her 64 percent field goal shooting ranks tops in the league and sixth in the nation.
Even though she draws extra attention from most opposing defenses, Johnson has managed eight double-doubles this season, including four in five Southeastern Conference games. She earned back-to-back SEC player of the week honors for her performance in wins against Old Dominion, Auburn, Chattanooga, Georgia and Arkansas.
On the defensive end, Johnson is tasked with shutting down the paint but often ends up frustrating shooting guards as well.
"She manhandles whoever is there," Georgia coach Andy Landers said after the Lady Bulldogs lost to Tennessee on Jan 5. "If you try and guard her, she comes right at you and makes you foul her."
Opposing players usually try to limit Johnson by getting physical, hoping they'll frustrate her and lure her into fouling. While that worked when she was a freshman and sophomore, she's learned to take the beatings she gets in the paint.
In a win against Vanderbilt on Sunday, Johnson found the Commodores' Elan Brown on top of her with Brown's elbow in her face after the two dove for a loose ball. Johnson went to the bench for a few minutes to put ice over her right eye but returned to play the second half.
"Glory just plays so hard," Summitt said. "It was pretty physical in there. I was really impressed with Glory's composure and energy. She was so focused on finishing her shot or boxing out for the rebound, no matter how many people she had around her."
Johnson has been just as focused off the court. She earned a bachelor's degree in global studies in just three years and is studying for her master's in communication.
She's already made a place for herself among the Tennessee greats, with her 1,010 total rebounds trailing just Chamique Holdsclaw's 1,295 and Sheila Frost's 1,043 and surpassing Tamika Catchings' 1,004. She's got 1,346 points for her career with 12 more regular-season games to go. Tennessee (13-4, 4-1) hosts LSU (13-4, 4-1) on Thursday night.
"She's a great player," Lady Vols point guard Ariel Massengale said. "On the boards she's relentless. The way that she plays, as hard as she plays, I'm glad that she's on my team and I don't have to play against her. She comes in here day after day and gets it done. We know that every time we step on the court we can count on Glory Johnson to give us 110 percent."