IOWA CITY — Bill McTaggart first met Virginia Johnson when she was 5 years old.
“Here was this gangly kid at my basketball camp,” said McTaggart, the girls’ basketball coach at Iowa City High. “She could handle the ball. She was fast. She played about 2 feet above everybody else.
“I thought, ‘I won’t be around by the time this kid comes up (to high school), but boy, she’s something special.’ ”
McTaggart was wrong on one count: He’s still around.
On the other hand, he was dead right. Virginia Johnson has lived up to the potential she first flashed as a youngster.
A 6-foot-2 forward, Johnson is putting the finishing touches on what has been a tremendous high school career. She is averaging 23.4 points (shooting 65.5 percent from the field) and 10.2 rebounds per game for a City High team that is 12-4 and ranked No. 8 in Class 4A.
She got her head start, as many do, as being part of a family with older siblings. Johnson has a twin sister (Phylliss), and two older brothers that were her first introduction to competition.
“We used to play in front of the house, or with the neighbors, all the time,” Johnson said.
The neighborhood battles toughened Johnson enough that she went out for the football team at South East Junior High. She played wide receiver.
“The coaches at South East said she was a very good player,” McTaggart said. “She has very good hands.”
Johnson became an instant starter for McTaggart as a freshman, and her first season was a championship season. The Little Hawks captured the 4A state championship in 2008, with Johnson scoring the winning points in the final game.
With the game tied and the ball 94 feet from the City High basket, Johnson made a leaping catch at midcourt and raced in for a layup as time expired to beat Cedar Rapids Washington.
It was a wide receiver type of play.
Many players would watch the replay over and over. Johnson has seen it only a handful of times.
“I heard that a lot of people thought I had traveled, and I wanted to go back and make sure that I hadn’t,” she said.
Last winter, Johnson fulfilled her dream and committed to play for the University of Iowa. There was no big production of a press conference. In fact, the final decision between Iowa and Rutgers was sort of spur-of-the-moment.
“We were sitting there at (an Iowa) game and Phylliss whispered to me, ‘Come on, you really don’t want to go anywhere else, do you?’ ” Johnson said.
After the game, Johnson met with the Iowa coaches and told them she was on board.
“I’ve always dreamed of going there,” she said. “Coach Bluder is like a role model. I like her style and the way she takes care of the girls as more than just basketball players.”
Phylliss opted not to play basketball at City High this season — “It took some adjusting for me,” Virginia said — but she’ll join her twin at Iowa and serve as a student manager.
Johnson fits Iowa’s recruiting tendencies – a mobile 6-foot-plus player that can run the floor.
“Virginia is a very gifted athlete,” said Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder. “Her build is tremendous and she’s an incredible rebounder. I think she’ll have a great career here.
“More importantly, she’s a quiet girl that’s not going to give us any problems. She’ll do things the right way.”
Johnson still isn’t a finished product. McTaggart said she still needs defensive fine-tuning. Bluder wants to increase her range. And Johnson is working on improving her left hand.
“You can only do half the things if you can only dribble with one hand,” she said.
She also thinking and looking ahead, developing her body into one that can compete in the Big Ten. She has spent a number of lifting sessions at Fit2Live Gym in Iowa City, putting on 12 pounds of mass.
A junior at Iowa, Kelly Krei teamed with Johnson for one year at City High, that championship season of 2007-08. Krei said she is “excited” for the reunion next year.
“We have some great memories together,” Krei said. “I’m excited for her to come here and make some more.”