ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WTVG) - Entering Sunday's game against Rutgers, Akienreh Johnson was one of four players to start every game this season for the Michigan women's basketball team.
Despite all that time on the court, the Rogers graduate may now be an expert in patience because this playing time was not always there on campus.
"Where I was from in Toledo, I was always one of the top players in everything I had to do, whether it was high school or AAU anything like that," Johnson said. "So, I never really had to learn the word patience. I played varsity immediately as a freshman."
Johnson did not play right away for the Wolverines because she tore the ACL in her left knee during her freshman year.
"Honestly, freshman year I'm just thinking like, 'Yeah, I'm injured, basically I just need to graduate. My basketball career is over, I've already torn it twice. There's no way I'm going to be able to go back to the player I am after two knee injuries,'" Johnson said. "If I'm playing basketball, I'm not going to be this high elite player like I want to be."
This was actually the second ACL tear in her left knee. The first tear happened the week before the state championship her junior year at Rogers.
"I literally had to have my teammates put my socks on," Johnson said.
So after going through the rehab a second time for her knee, Johnson began building up her confidence. Only to break her hand before her junior season and missing six weeks of hoops.
"Most kids, as you would imagine, would kind of give up at that point and would feel defeated and really wouldn't see the bright side," Wolverines head coach Kim Barnes Arico said.
Johnson plays the third most minutes per game for the Wolverines. She is second on the team in rebounds, providing returns on her investment with the program both on and off the court.
"I want her to speak to the younger kids because she's lived it," Barnes Arico said. "She's been there and she can relate and sometimes they need to hear it from someone other than a coach, someone that's truly experienced it."
Johnson is also one of the Wolverines co-captains this season.
"I want them to know that nothing is going to be easy," Johnson said. "As a freshman, actually you're really even not supposed to play. You're supposed to watch and learn from players above you. So, if you play your freshman year you have to bring something really special."
There is a chance Johnson could share this message with another freshman class at Michigan. The team applied in November to the NCAA for a waiver, allowing for a fifth year of eligibility because of lost time to those injuries. If that does not come through, Akienreh has other options to work toward her career in social work or law enforcement or even play pro ball internationally.
"Just have the option of being a senior and not having to go directly into the real world yet is very kind of ... calms you down a little bit, but it is very difficult to go through the entire year being a senior but you don't really know if you're last year senior or have another year," Johnson said.
Barnes Arico says she believes that fifth year of eligibility for Johnson will happen, which means more time for the duo to spend together.
"She's one of the first kids that I talked to when I was hired at the University of Michigan," Barnes Arico said. "She was in eighth grade. The youngest kid ever to commit. The youngest kid to ever commit to me personally in my twenty years of college coaching and actually stayed the course and never wavered."