MISSOULA — Montana basketball fans watched Tiana Johnson grow up on the court as a standout player at Kalispell Flathead High School.
But Johnson took a road less traveled for her college career, when she went NCAA Division I, and stayed in the Big Sky Conference, but went to Sacramento State rather than stay in-state, a move that paid dividends for her for a number of reasons.
"I think just playing club and I knew I wanted to try and play Division I if I could," Johnson told MTN Sports about her path to Sac State. "I knew with the Big Sky Conference I could come home like up to Montana a lot and closer games so my parents could come and watch. I liked the idea of living in California for a while. I wanted to be able to get out of the state for a little bit and experience something new and so it was really fun. It was really diverse there and I loved it."
But heading into last spring, Johnson finished her undergrad in nutrition, and was looking for a school with a masters program in dietetics to pursue her goal of becoming a registered dietitian.
So Johnson left Sac State after four years with the program and was in search of a new school.
She didn't have to look far to find a new landing spot for both academics, and basketball.
"Just looking at schools that did have one and Idaho, this was their first year that they started one and so I contacted them and said, 'Hey if you guys need another player I'd love to come,'" Johnson said. "And it really worked out."
So, the 6-foot-2 Johnson stayed in the Big Sky Conference as she joined the Vandals in April, and has started every game for Idaho this year. She's currently averaging 9.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40.3% from the field and 38.9% from deep.
"I think it's really helpful being able to play in the Big Sky again just because you know the players, you know the teams," Johnson said. "It is a fun conference especially this season because everyone is beating everybody right now and there's nobody who is super dominant."
That means more return trips to her home state with games against Montana and Montana State, something the Kalispell native relishes every time.
"It is a little different but I am glad every time I get to come back because there are people who will come and watch me play which is fun," Johnson said. "Playing at Montana State is fun because my dad (Tryg Johnson) played there so it's like getting to play where he played and especially with all of the other schools in our conference that's really fun. And it's a little different here and there because it's like oh I grew up watching all of these guys but I'm really thankful for where I'm at.
"I love Montana. I hype Montana up all the time."
Idaho sits in the middle of the pack of the women's standings at 6-8 in conference play as the season winds down with Johnson's first year on the team, as the Vandals, like both Montana schools, hope to make a run in March in Boise. Idaho hosts Montana on Monday as the two schools meet for the second time in less than a week.
"Just to get better each game," Johnson said. "Each game we learn something new, we grow from it. So just trying to come away with something positive from each game, something we need to work on, something that was good. We can still, I think, get a bye, if we win every game so that would be really cool. I haven't had a bye in the tournament yet so that would be really fun. But hey we can go four games in a row and go dancing so that'd be cool."