STILLWATER — Roshunda Johnson remembers the conversation she had with Miranda Serna on Nov. 17, 2011.
“We're about to get on a plane,” the Oklahoma State women's basketball assistant coach told Johnson, referring to herself and Cowgirl head coach Kurt Budke. “We'll be down there for your game, so be looking for us.”
Serna and Budke never made it.
The two coaches, along with program supporters Olin and Paula Branstetter, were killed in a plane crash a year ago Saturday while on that recruiting trip to Arkansas, where they were scheduled to scout Johnson and fellow area prep star, Tyler Scaife.
Johnson admits the aftermath of the tragedy was difficult emotionally. Yet she remained connected to the program, and on Wednesday signed her letter of intent to play for the Cowgirls.
“At first, I started off blaming myself,” Johnson said. “It was just like, ‘Aw, man. They were on their way to come see me, and then that accident happened.' I felt kind of bad. It was kind of hard for me.
“(But I had to remember) ‘At the end of the day, they were still watching you.'”
Johnson, a four-star point guard from Parkview High School in Little Rock, felt a bond with Budke and Serna early in the recruiting process. She'd often call the coaches before practice or games for a pep talk. They'd tell her to get the team pumped up, to keep a level head if things went wrong and to be a leader on the floor.
“We could just get to know each other better,” she said. “I felt like they were part of the family.”
And a trip to Stillwater in September sealed that she wanted to become an official part of the Cowgirl family.
Her official visit to OSU included a steak dinner and plenty of quality time with current players. She spent time on the sideline during the Cowboys' football game against Texas. And during a meeting with coaches, she committed to the Cowgirls.
“When I came up there, it really felt like it was another home for me,” Johnson said. “The team just made me feel welcome.
“Really, it was just all about the people.”
Johnson, who is rated the No. 49 overall prospect in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz, averaged 21 points, six rebounds eight assists and three steals per game as a junior and helped lead Parkview to the Class 6A state title. She describes herself as a hard worker and solid defender who has an ability to shoot the pullup jumper and 3-pointer.
“Getting a commitment from Roshunda, who is one of the top point guards in the country, is a huge plus for our program,” Cowgirl coach Jim Littell said. “She is a true winner and does whatever it takes to win.”
Johnson appears to be in line to eventually replace Tiffany Bias, who will be a senior next season. But Johnson said she's particularly excited to share the court with Bias, and learn under the Cowgirls' dynamic guard, because of their similar playing styles.
It's been almost a year since Budke and Serna were supposed to be in the stands evaluating Johnson.
But Johnson is now looking forward to playing in the arena where Budke and Serna once coached, for the program she always felt linked to.
“I feel like my dreams are actually coming true,” Johnson said. “For me to have an opportunity that most people don't have, it's a gift from God.”
One year later
As the one-year anniversary of the plane crash killed Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and program supporters Olin and Paula Branstetter approaches, The Oklahoman looks at the lives of those affected by the crash.
Wednesday: Nettie Herrera still mourns her daughter, Miranda Serna.
Thursday: Kurt Budke's son Alex is playing in front of ‘family' at OSU.
Friday: Catching up with Roshunda Johnson, one of the players Budke and Serna were on the way to see when the plane crashed.
Saturday: The five words Shelley Budke has been living by since the crash.