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Dallas Wings coach Vickie Johnson hopes to be inspiration

New Dallas Wings coach Vickie Johnson says she hopes to be an inspiration to the WNBA's players as someone who helped launch the league as a player herself in 1997 and who is now its only Black woman head coach.

Johnson was officially announced as the Wings coach Wednesday in a Zoom call with Dallas president and CEO Greg Bibb.

Dallas had the youngest average age in the league last season (24.20), and the Wings have three first-round draft picks in 2021. They may use those to trade for more experience, but Dallas will still be a youthful team, which Johnson is eager to work with.

"I have been where these players are trying to go," said Johnson, a guard for the New York Liberty in the WNBA's inaugural season who played 13 years in the league. "I know this is an incredible moment for all of us.

"It's very important for me as a Black woman to be a role model. Not only for the Black athletes in our league, but also for the white athletes as well. For all players. I am a coach, and I take pride in that every day."

There are currently two Black men as head coaches: Los Angeles' Derek Fisher and Chicago's James Wade. But this past WNBA season, there were no Black women in a head coaching role; the most recent before Johnson was Pokey Chatman, who was fired by Indiana after the 2019 season. Social justice issues, including support of the Black Lives Matter movement, were a key part of the 2020 WNBA season in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, and Johnson knows how important that is to the players.

This will be Johnson's second opportunity as a WNBA head coach. The first was in San Antonio in 2017. The Stars finished 8-26 that season, but Johnson was coaching under difficult circumstances as the franchise was in its last season in San Antonio. It moved the next year to become the Las Vegas Aces, with Bill Laimbeer taking over as head coach and Johnson moving to an assistant role.

This past season, Johnson helped the Aces tie the Seattle Storm at 18-4 for the best record in the WNBA, with Las Vegas forward A'ja Wilson winning the MVP award. Las Vegas then lost to the Storm in the WNBA Finals.

Johnson starred collegiately at Louisiana Tech, finishing in 1996. She competed in the WNBA for nine seasons with New York and four with San Antonio, averaging 10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists in her career. One of her teammates on both franchises was backcourt mate Becky Hammon, now an assistant with the NBA's Spurs.

Johnson played overseas for 15 years and began her coaching career as an assistant coach for the Stars from 2011 to 2016.

"I can give you a scouting report on each player in this league, each team in this league," Johnson said. "So I'm well-prepared, and my team will be prepared."

Johnson replaces Brian Agler, who coached two years in Dallas before agreeing to part ways in October after the Wings went 8-14 this season and missed the playoffs.

Bibb said Johnson's ability to relate well with players was a big part of his decision to hire her.

"I think the athlete of today is a little different than the athlete of yesterday," Bibb said. "A former player, for me, was at the top of the priority list. Having known Vickie a little bit and having watched her from afar, I've always been impressed with how she goes about her job. I understand the level of respect she has in our league.

"She's someone that, when she walks into a room, the players want to talk to her, they want to learn from her. She has that credibility factor that will make it easier to instill her message into our team."

The 2020 Wings were led by first-team All-WNBA guard Arike Ogunbowale, who averaged a league-best 22.8 points in her second season as a pro. Rookie forward Satou Sabally, despite being sidelined six games with injury, averaged 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Johnson said despite her travels as a player and coach, Dallas has been her home base since 2004, which also made this job appealing. She said she learned a lot in her one season as head coach at San Antonio, and is glad to have another chance in that role.

"I knew I was head coach material," she said. "I didn't want to be an assistant all my life. [But] I didn't want to coach just any team. The biggest thing for me [is] just looking at the roster and the possibility. These young players have accomplished a lot of things in a short period of time, and I want them to continue to grow as people and as players.

"We're going to build something great here. Greg and I will build a championship team. But it takes time. We're willing to put in the work and push the players to a limit that they have never gone to before. But we're up for the challenge."