Basketball Lives on In Heart and
Actions of Alum Deitra (Primas) Johnson
Will Return to Campus to Honor Coach Howie Landa
Windsor, N.J. - There are decisions in life that define everything
that follows. That was the case for Deitra (Primas) Johnson
'80 (A.S., Telecommunications) when she agreed to play
basketball for Mercer County Community College in 1978 under
then head coach Larry Jackson.
"The way I look at it, I was supposed to go to Mercer,"
Johnson says. "It all began there. I buckled down. The
camaraderie of the MCCC Athletics Department was priceless."
A graduate of McKinley Tech High School in Washington, D.C.,
Johnson recalls being recruited by Coach Jackson after he
watched her play in the D.C. All-Star game. "At the time,
I had delusions of grandeur, but honestly, I didn't take high
school seriously enough," Johnson says. She recognized
that she needed time to grow.
Johnson's Mercer years provided that and more, as sports and,
increasingly, academics became her focus. After a stellar
basketball career at Mercer, she transferred to Howard University,
where she earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism with
minors in Physical Education and Sports Management.
"I was always torn between my love for writing and my
love of athletics, so I learned to combine the two,"
In addition to playing for the MCCC women's team, Johnson
served as a public address announcer for Vikings men's basketball
and then she served as an announcer for women's basketball
at Howard. During her senior year there, she earned a National
Football League (NFL) scholarship in sports writing and was
a program assistant for the National Association for Girls
and Women in Sports (NAGWS) in Reston, Va.
days the versatile Johnson wears three hats: as a long-time
sports writer and editor, as a substitute teacher, and, in
a connection that bridges her own history as an athlete with
the next generation, as a middle school basketball coach.
Johnson says her commitment to coaching is a clear reflection
of her time at Mercer and her understanding of the positive
role of sports in the lives of young people. As a first-year
college student at MCCC, she says her first lesson was developing
self-reliance. "During those first months, I grew up.
And even though it was junior college athletics, it was one
of the best."
had to do was look to the men's basketball team for inspiration.
Coached by the legendary Howie Landa, the Vikings had won
two consecutive national titles in 1973 and 1974. During Johnson's
first year, the Mercer men went to the national tournament
and lost the championship game by one point. She recalls that
all of Mercer's teams competed in national tournaments while
she was a student.
She quickly learned that playing time was not so easy to come
by. Johnson came off the bench her first season, waiting until
second year guard Debbie Yurtz graduated. Then during Johnson's
sophomore season, she played in every game. The Lady Vikings
won the Region XIX title in 1980 with a regular season record
"Our one loss during the season was against Union County
College," Johnson recalls. "Then we played Union
in the Region 19 championship and won by 7 points, the same
margin of our earlier loss. Redemption!" Her teammates
included Terry Dorner, Marchel Wilson-Simmons, Denise Randolph
(a.k.a. Nikki) and Petheria McIver, (a.k.a. "P"),
a fellow player from D.C. The Vikings headed to nationals,
winning two and losing two, as they completed a record-breaking
In addition to her appreciation of Coach Jackson, who passed
away in 2011, she vividly recalls Coach Landa. "He inspired
us on a daily basis. His energy level was remarkable and he
just had that way of explaining things -- basketball or otherwise
-- that made an indelible mark on our lives."
(Primas) Johnson '80
the locker room at MCCC, circa 1979, from left, Denise Randoph,
Deitra Primas and Marchel Wilson.
the sidelines with Coach Larry Jackson, right.
recalls that during her second season, Landa took a break
from coaching at Mercer to serve as head coach of the New
Jersey Gems, one of the first women's professional teams.
"He gave us the chance to scrimmage his squad, which
helped us win Region XIX," she maintains.
Johnson also remembers sports journalist George O'Gorman,
the long-time, old-school writer for The Trentonian
newspaper. "At that time, there were very few women covering
sports. This was only a few years after the passage of Title
IX [the law that equalized the playing field between men's
and women's sports]. I am grateful to him for his coverage
of our team during those years." Johnson says she still
has most of O'Gorman's articles about the Vikings, including
the memorably titled "Pee-Dee Show Heads West - Lady
Vikes Set" that appeared as the Vikings traveled to nationals.
(The headline refers to the two players, Petheria and Deitra,
who had played against each other in high school and became
close friends at Mercer.)
graduating from Howard, Johnson became sports editor for the
Northern Virginia Sun in Arlington, Va. She began a
family and eventually moved to Atlanta, but never got derailed
from her goals. Today, she is the sports editor for the Atlanta
Daily World, recognized as country's oldest Black daily
newspaper. Now in its 83rd year, she has worked there off
and on since 1989.
"We cover all major sports news for the pro teams in
Atlanta - the Hawks, Falcons, Braves, and near and dear to
my heart, the WNBA's Atlanta Dream," Johnson says. She
recruits college students to help with coverage. "It's
great for them and gives them professional opportunities before
they graduate. They get press credentials and conduct locker
Johnson's beat also includes Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta
University in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference,
Georgia Tech (Atlantic Coast Conference), the University of
Georgia (Southeastern Conference) and Georgia State University
(Colonial Athletic Association).
Also working as a substitute teacher for the Clayton County
School District, Johnson just completed her first season as
head basketball coach for a group of sixth grade girls at
Atlanta's KIPP Vision Academy. She notes they knew nothing
about basketball when they started. "It's a challenge,
but the good thing is they don't have bad habits yet. It's
a clean slate." She predicts that by eighth grade, they
will be the team to beat.
"Coach Landa is one of the reasons I began coaching.
I only hope that I can continue to do it with the same zeal
and intensity as he did," Johnson says. Formerly she
was the assistant coach at another KIPP school, which won
the championship three of the four years she worked there.
Johnson is hoping to reunite with some of her teammates on
September 15 when Mercer will host a tribute to Coach Landa
with the unveiling of the Landa basketball court at the West
Windsor campus, followed by a celebratory dinner at the MCCC
be back on campus will feel great," Johnson said. "I've
had recurring dreams about returning and visiting the staff
and old teammates. It will be a dream come true."
about the plans for the Landa Tribute here.
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