Competitive fire fuels UAA's Johansson

Seawolves senior didn't have Alaska on her map until losing to U.S. team.

Anchorage Daily NewsFebruary 24, 2012 

UAA's Hanna Johansson works her way around a Dominican defender in November. Johansson is averaging 13.8 points per game to go with 9.2 rebounds and a shooting percentage of 55 percent and is a big reason why the Seawolves are the eighth-ranked team in the country with a 24-4 record.

MARC LESTER / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE 2011

Hanna Johansson showed a competitive nature even when she was a little girl going on a walk with her parents.

"If we walked ahead of her, she would get mad," mom Lena Johansson said.

That competitiveness turned out to be a major reason Johansson left her home in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2008 to play college basketball in Anchorage, where she has led the UAA women's basketball team in scoring and rebounding the past two seasons.

"At first, I wasn't very interested in coming to the United States," Johnasson said.

But in 2007, Johansson and the Swedish U-19 national team finished second to the U.S. in the FIBA world championships. The experience was an eye opener, and Johansson said it made her realize she had a lot to learn about playing winning basketball.

"That's when I changed my mind about the United States," she said.

Several schools were interested in acquiring the talents of the 6-foot-2 center, some at the Division I level and some in well-known states like California and Florida.

UAA caught Johansson's attention for a couple of reasons: It was the only program to promise tough challenges, and Maria Nilsson, another Swede, played at UAA from 2006-08 and liked the program. Nilsson actually helped recruit Johansson, accompanying UAA assistant coach Rebecca Alvidrez on a trip to Sweden.

"That was the first time I heard of Alaska," Johansson said. "When you are going to the United States, you don't think of Alaska."

In four years at the school, Johansson has accumulated statistics that put her in the top 10 of most major career categories. This season has been her best. She is averaging 13.8 points per game to go with 9.2 rebounds and a shooting percentage of 55 percent and is a big reason why the Seawolves are the eighth-ranked team in the country with a 24-4 record.

Robin Graul (No. 22) and Rebecca Kielpinski (No. 54) are the only two UAA women to have their jerseys retired, and UAA coach Tim Moser said he wouldn't be surprised if Johansson (No. 50) becomes the third.

"I think she'll go right up next to 54," he said.

Playing for Moser is one of the things Johansson will miss most about her time in Anchorage. She said he has taught her what it takes to be a great player, making her aware of weaknesses she didn't know she possessed.

"He sees so much," she said.

Johansson, who started playing basketball at age 10, grew up playing on club teams and was mostly coached by her father, Janne Johansson, a 6-foot-6 competitive table tennis player who learned basketball on the fly. Understanding and coaching the game's general principles wasn't overly difficult for the self-proclaimed sports nut.

Johansson was used to a casual practice environment in Sweden, so when she showed up for her first UAA practice, she was startled by the high level of intensity.

"I thought, 'Is this a military camp?' It's intense practice and you have to stay focused all the time," she said.

The biggest difference in U.S. basketball and Swedish basketball is the heavy attention to detail on the defensive end, Johansson said.

"In Europe, basketball is more offensive based," she said.

Johansson, a journalism and communications major, will be honored tonight along with fellow seniors Tijera Mathews, Torlee Nenbee and Kaylie Robison when the Seawolves play their final game of the season at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. Johansson's parents are in town for the occasion.

"It's gonna be emotional, probably, when you've been in a place for four years," Johansson said. "It's in my heart and soul, Alaska."


Reach Jeremy Peters at jpeters@adn.com or 257-4335.

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