Mining Journal sports editor Matt Wellens and I were talking Thursday morning about the Northern Michigan University Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet scheduled for Saturday in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center.
I noticed Kris (Manske) Johnson of Green Bay was one of the four honorees. I remarked to Matt how great a basketball player I thought Johnson was at NMU.
"Of all the NMU women basketball players I saw/covered over the years, Shana (DeCremer) Ojala of Trout Creek and Johnson were the best," I said.
Kris (Manske) Johnson looks to make a pass at Hedgecock Fieldhouse in this undated file photo provided by Northern?Michigan University. Johnson will be inducted into the NMU Sports Hall of Fame on?Saturday. (NMU photo)
"Ojala was tough-as-nails inside who gave you everything she had, while Johnson was the best all-around Wildcat player ever, the 'Larry Bird' of NMU women's hoops."
Wellens gave me a sly smile.
"(Current NMU women's coach) Troy Mattson is quoted in the press release about the banquet that 'Kris Manske was the Larry Bird of NMU basketball,'" he said.
"I told you," I replied.
Johnson could do it all. She could pass, defend, score, rebound and excel at the free throw line.
She wasn't your prototype women's collegiate basketball player, if there is one. She wasn't tall, she wasn't lithe, she wasn't particularly quick.
But Johnson possessed a court awareness not normally seen in a player. She could also handle the ball with amazing skill.
She led the Wildcats in assists all four of her seasons (1995-98), and in rebounding and 3-point field goals made in both 1997 and '98. She also sank all 14 of her free throw attempts in a 1995 contest.
Johnson had a knack of getting her teammates involved early in a game. Then, if she had to take over, she did, with whatever it took to win the contest.
I'm sure she made key-play-after-key-play down the stretch of close games, the ultimate go-to player at crunch time.
It's probably not a coincidence that when she played for the Wildcats and then-coach Mike Geary, NMU went 101-21 over her career.
Johnson was fun to watch and easy to talk with after a game.
I don't ever remember her having an attitude she could easily have developed with how good - and dominating - she was.
Maybe she had a flaw or two as a player. Maybe she wasn't much of a vocal leader in the Wildcat locker room, preferring instead to let her court play do her talking for her.
But to me, she was the consummate player.
Mentioning DeCremer and Johnson certainly doesn't slight some of the other fine Wildcat women basketball players I saw, from Krista Pray (1980-83), to Tammie Anderson (1987-1990) and to Chelsea Lyons the past two years.
But Johnson was in a class by herself. Why she hasn't been inducted into the NMU Sports Hall until now is a mystery.
Better late than never, I guess.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.