Teammates, on and off court

Girls basketball: Tameka McDonald and Rudi Johnson share a special chemistry, in sport and life, that has 10-2 Aberdeen eyeing another state final four trip.

High Schools

January 18, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Aberdeen senior Rudi Johnson had heard about Tameka McDonald not long after Johnson's family moved to Harford County from Delaware.

"People were telling me about some girl who was really good at basketball and I wanted to meet her," said Johnson, then a 12-year-old Aberdeen Middle School student.

Encouraged by a friend, Johnson approached McDonald during gym class at the middle school. The two found that they shared many common interests and have been fast friends since.

They have also formed quite the tandem on the basketball court.

With the lightning-quick McDonald running the point, often looking for the versatile Johnson on the wing or inside, the Eagles are off to a 10-2 start.

Success is nothing new for the seniors, who have led the Eagles to back-to-back state semifinal appearances, but have elevated their games this season.

The two averaged 10 points a game last season, but their numbers are way up: McDonald averages 20 points and Johnson, 14.

At 5-foot-1, McDonald uses quickness and tenacity to average 3.7 steals, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists a game. Johnson, a 5-foot-9 forward, averages 10.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and one block.

"When Tameka is getting steals, she's looking for Rudi sprinting down the floor," said Eagles coach Brandi Barnes. "When Rudi gets a block or a rebound, she is looking to get the ball to Tameka. They complement each other very well."

The pair's chemistry is five years in the making. As 13-year-olds, they were teammates in the Aberdeen Bible Park and Rec Program before playing together in middle school. They both made Aberdeen's varsity as freshmen.

Often, McDonald will make a slight hand gesture and Johnson knows exactly what to do or expect.

The chemistry on the court has been fostered by camaraderie off it as the two rarely are apart. Among their favorite activities are shopping, bowling and roller-skating.

They sing together in the school choir and in the gospel choir at the church where Johnson's father is the pastor. They both also are honor roll students and run track in the spring.

"You see one of us," McDonald said, "you are probably going to see the other. Rudi's a true friend. We've had a connection for a long time."

At practice this week, McDonald picked up Johnson and carted her around the gym, all while Johnson belted out one of her favorite songs. Teammates, who are constantly kidding the pair about their sister-like relationship, howled in laughter.

But the 17-year-olds are different in one aspect. Before games, Johnson clowns around with teammates, while McDonald isolates herself to get focused.

At a basketball camp this summer at Temple University, McDonald's silence and sullen expression often prompted people to ask Johnson what was wrong with her friend.

Johnson, of course, had seen it before.

"I told them that she is just getting in the mood, getting focused," said Johnson.

McDonald has made giant strides in a year. Last season, she was often at odds with the Eagles' coaching staff and was even suspended for a couple of games.

But she turned things around in time to help lead the Eagles to the state semifinals, where they lost to eventual state champion Walkersville, 40-37, despite McDonald's game-high 17 points.

This year, McDonald was named a team captain and has welcomed the opportunity to put the negatives in the past. Barnes lauded her maturity, calling McDonald the team's vocal leader.

Johnson was just glad to see her friend smiling again.

"It pumps me up when she gets on the court," said Johnson. "Her defense is crazy and she doesn't care how small she is, she'll drive to the basket regardless."

And it is McDonald who is the first person to get Johnson's ear when she feels her teammate isn't putting forth the effort. Johnson admitted that she can be lazy, especially on defense - which is where McDonald works her hardest and demands the same from her teammates.

When Johnson is at her best, she is grabbing rebounds, blocking shots and scoring at will with her soft jump shot and quick first step on the drive.

"To me, there is no weakness in her game and she can succeed in every area," said McDonald. "She's the best player I've ever played with, but sometimes you've got to push her."

Both McDonald and Johnson have a vision for their last game as Aberdeen teammates.

"The Aberdeen Lady Eagles, the 2003-04 state champions," McDonald said, imitating the announcement her team wants to hear at the conclusion of their season. "That's definitely our goal and that's the mind-set everybody on our team has."

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