BUFFALO, N.Y. — “A lot of moms forget about themselves,” University at Buffalo forward Kiara Johnson. “Like self-love and stuff, but I knew I missed the game, and I knew I had the support, so that’s what made me go back.”
But the Bulls didn't add just Johnson to the roster, rather two, with her son Joseph Christopher Johnson tagging along.
"A lot of people doubted me, but when he was born, I literally said out loud in the room, 'I have to go back to school. I have to play or him, but also for myself,' " she said.
And that Johnson did. After a stint at Eastern Michigan and graduating from Towson, it was time to return home and play for the team she grew up watching just minutes from where she grew up.
"When I was pregnant, I was actually in the stands at UB watching UB play Niagara, so I wanted to stay close to home," Johnson said. "I live 10 minutes from UB, so I actually reached out to the coaches, so that's why I made my decision to go back home and play for Buffalo, because this was always the school I wanted to play for."
And it wasn't an easy process to get to the Bulls, at all. With a new head coach in Becky Burke and staff, it took a lot a legwork from a dedicated mother.
"Honestly, she sent me an email. She sent Coach Foust an email. But what got my attention is she messaged me on Instagram," Bulls coach Becky Burke said. "Sometimes these things happen in recruiting where you fall across a good player or an awesome story by chance.
"That's really what this was, but give me a kid with a chip on her shoulder, somebody who has been through some stuff. Give me a KJ, who is going to come out to practice and go her absolute hardest to be the best teammate, and do well in school, be a great example for her son. That's a team full of people that you want."
Johnson did the work not just mentally but physically, all while being a full-time mother and student. She's trimmed down 70 pounds and striving to get back to playing weight.
Johnson credits her teammates for her added motivation.
"It's kind of emotional," Johnson said. "I don't want to cry or anything, but to have your teammates there to help and push you is big. At the same time, when I come to play, my son comes with me, and one of my teammates are watching him. Literally I can go to the store, and they are watching him. It means a lot to me."
Added Burke: "This is so much bigger than basketball. This is about her having an opportunity to continue her education, set an example for her son, be around her family. There are things we're understanding about as a staff and as a team, and being able to work with her through those things."
With family, friends and most importantly her son, Kiara wants to help other women who are in her position to know you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
"A lot of people had doubts, but I don't know it pushed me," Johnson said. "I want my son to know even though it was hard, I did it for him, but also myself."