Dominique Johnson was on her way to a youth basketball tournament nearly 10 years ago in Hershey, Pa., when she spoke on the phone with her brother, Josh, a former student at Laurel High who had moved out of the area.
He wished his sister good luck in the tournament, which drew some of the top girls basketball players in the region.
Johnson had no way to know it would be the last time she spoke to her brother, who was killed in a car accident the next day in Mississippi in 2005.
Johnson, who attended Laurel Elementary School and played for the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, did not attend her brother's funeral in Mississippi and decided to play at the tournament in Hershey because she felt that was what her brother would have wanted her to do.
Now, the starting sophomore point guard for Division I Towson University, Johnson said she still draws inspiration from her brother.
"My brother's death is what made me take basketball so serious," said Johnson, a former Laurel resident whose family now lives in Maryland City.
Johnson began playing for the Laurel Wildcats when she was 6 and about three years later, suited up for the Laurel Fire.
After two years with the Fire, she began playing for an Amateur Athletic Union program.
She spent her first three years of high school in Montgomery County at the Academy of the Holy Cross, where her varsity coach was former St. Vincent Pallotti High girls head coach Russell Davis.
Johnson faced another challenge at the beginning of last season as a freshman at Towson.
She was ruled ineligible for the first eight games of the season by the NCAA because of transcript issues after she transferred from Holy Cross to Riverdale Baptist before her senior season of high school.
But she returned to the Tigers, averaged nine points per game and was named to the CAA All-Rookie team under former coach Joe Mathews in 2012-13.
Johnson attracted the attention of several Division I schools.
"Towson just stayed with me through the bad and the good," said Johnson, who was also recruited by James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth and Stony Brook, among others.
The challenge this season has been adapting to the style of new coach Niki Reid Geckeler, a former head coach at Howard University who played in college at Georgetown.
She took over for Mathews, who left the program near the end of last season.
"Coach Mathews was just a father figure to many of us. He was just a mentor," Johnson said. "Now we have a mother figure. When it comes between the lines, she is our coach."
Reid Geckeler came in and wanted Johnson to become more of a distributor at point guard instead of a shooter.
"If you look around me, I have a lot of scorers," said Johnson, averaging 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game through Jan. 16. "I don't have to score as much as I needed to last year. It was kind of hard for me to adjust to that change."
Johnson likes her new coach's emphasis on defense.
"She is more defensive-minded, for sure. She also preaches about defense, chemistry and togetherness," Johnson said. "I guess with her preaching that, we are clicking with the defense. We are getting it down pat."
The Tigers were 8-8 overall and 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association after a 62-57 loss at home Jan. 16 to James Madison, the preseason favorite in the CAA.
Johnson had a team-high six assists, six points and seven rebounds.
"She played the same position I did, and I am sure I am tough on her," Reid Geckeler said. "She is the general on the court. I have all of the confidence in the world in her. The future is bright, and she is getting better."
In order to adjust to the system of her new coach, Johnson watched tapes of the Howard point guard from last season when Reid Geckeler was the coach there.
"I was studying her game," Johnson said. "This is probably one of my better seasons."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun