Faith Johnson-Patterson is well known in Minnesota high school basketball lore. After eight state titles and 14 tournament appearances as the head girls’ coach at Minneapolis North (state championships in 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005) and DeLaSalle (state championships in 2011, 2012, 2013), she has established herself among the state’s elite.
Twenty-nine years ago, I saw the Hall of Fame coach in a different light.
In May 1980, my father invited me — a ninth-grader at the time — to attend a high school all-star game at the old Met Center in Bloomington featuring teams representing Minnesota and Indiana.
I was very excited because my basketball heroes at the time — Ricky Suggs (St. Paul Central) and David Gilreath (Marshall University High) — were going to be playing against the best high school players the state of Indiana had to offer.
My pops, the late Kwame McDonald, had other ideas. I should have known, because we were leaving for the game three hours before tip-off.
“There’s a girls’ game before the boys’,” he said with urgency. “I’ve got to see Faith.”
At the time, I wasn’t that excited about seeing the girls play. The priority for me was to watch the boys represent. I also remember saying to myself, “Faith who?”
The answer to that question was fully answered in the next hour and a half.
We looked on as Marshall-University High senior guard Faith Johnson — displaying quickness, leadership and one of the purest jump shots I’ve ever witnessed — scored nine of her 15 points in the second period to help the Minnesota all-stars defeat the Indiana all-stars 71-65.
That game was my introduction to Faith Johnson the player. Many don’t realize the impact she had as a player during a time when girls’ basketball was in its infancy.
She played in the first two girls’ state basketball tournaments during her eighth- and ninth-grade seasons, and though she went on to have an outstanding prep career, she was not an all-state selection as a senior.
Despite the snub, she accepted a scholarship offer to play at the University of Wisconsin, scoring 1,120 points from 1980-1985.
Many remember Johnson-Patterson as one the state’s greatest coaches. Some remember her as an outstanding high school player.
Thanks to my father, I will always remember her as both.