Jenna Johnson is the ‘team mom’ for Utah Utes women’s basketball

The sophomore forward is “19 going on 40,” her coach says.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Jenna Johnson (22) leads the team out of a timeout against Princeton on Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

In a room full of young women in their late teens and early 20s, Jenna Johnson keeps everyone organized and informed.

Need to know what time shootaround is? “Ask Jenna.” Is wearing apparel not branded by Under Armour OK for an ice cream outing? “Ask Jenna.”

Johnson, a sophomore forward for the University of Utah women’s basketball team, might only be 19, but she’s considered the “team mom” of the Utes.

“She’s 19 going on 40,” coach Lynne Roberts said.

The moniker started for Johnson during her freshman year at Utah. She shared a dorm with then-freshmen Gianna Kneepkens and Inês Vieira, and wanted to make sure they got to classes and team practices on time. So she created a shared calendar and put all their schedules on it.

Johnson got the idea from her family, which has its own shared calendar that kept that “as a unit,” she said. Kneepkens and Vieira didn’t actually use the calendar all that much, but it was there for them if they wanted.

Teammates describe Johnson as reliable both on and off the court, the type of person from whom you know what to expect every day. And her penchant for mass organization is just one way she shows her teammates she cares about them.

“If I have something to ask her, like with my life at least, she gives very good advice and she’ll tell you the truth,” Vieira said. “She’s a very good person to talk to if you have any issue with anything in life.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Gianna Kneepkens (5) and forward Jenna Johnson (22) celebrate the win on Sunday.

Kneepkens, who is from the same state (Minnesota) as Johnson and recently went on a summer leadership trip to Ecuador with Johnson, has also seen her friend and roommate’s nurturing side.

“She’s just someone I can always turn to when I have a bad day or anything,” Kneepkens said. “We have late-night talks all the time, or just having a good time getting away from on-the-court things because sometimes that can become a lot.”

Much like mothers who juggle their career and multiple children, Johnson doesn’t enjoy a lot of free time. When she’s not in class or with the team, she’s in leadership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and co-president of the Student-Athlete Athletics Council. She described it as having “a bajillion commitments.”

Roberts said that during a recent moment of shooting the breeze with her players, the subject of movies and television came up. Johnson said she doesn’t partake in any of that. “I don’t have time,” Roberts recalled her saying.

“Her schedule is packed with stuff, and that’s the way she likes it,” Roberts said.

In Vieira’s experience, team moms on other squads she’s been on have usually been some of the oldest players. But in Johnson, she gets the youngest team mom she’s ever had, she said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Teammates describe Johnson as reliable both on and off the court, the type of person from whom you know what to expect every day.

Johnson didn’t set out to become the team mom. But she thinks her personality naturally lent itself to that title. She said she gets the sense that her teammates respect her for her organizational skills, but also for being a “welcoming, mother-like figure” who they feel they can trust.

“That’s just who she is,” Kneepkens said. “And we love her for it.”

Dru Gylten, who Vieira said the team used to call “grandma” due to her long tenure at Utah, created a leadership hole when she left. And Johnson, Vieira said, stepped in because “she kind of had to,” and did it with aplomb.

Just like a good mother.

“That’s a pretty big honor that my teammates see me as that type of person,” Johnson said.

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