Iowa freshman Whitney Jennings' role comes into focus
Growing up in Indiana it is sort of assumed you like basketball — which Iowa freshman Whitney Jennings certainly did.
It's also assumed that most players pick a side in the in-state rivalry between Purdue and Indiana — something Jennings never did.
"Indiana is really divided with the big rivalry between Purdue and Indiana but my parents just kind of cheered for all the Indiana teams," Jennings said. "I never really grew up with a team that I was a fan of."
That lack of affection for a certain team may have made it easier for the Indiana Miss Basketball honoree to leave her home state and become a Hawkeye.
It also may alleviate some nerves for Jennings when the Logansport native faces games against home-state Big Ten schools, like Sunday's meeting with Indiana (14-10, 4-9 Big Ten) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Favorite team or not, nerves or no nerves, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is just happy Jennings is a Hawkeye.
The fifth-highest scorer in Indiana state history, Jennings is making an immediate impact in her first college season.
Jennings has started 21 games for No. 14 Iowa (20-4, 11-2) this season, including the last 17, and is fifth on the team in scoring at 9.4 points per game.
Jennings has scored in double figures in three of the last five games, including a personal conference-best 16-point performance in a road win at Northwestern.
"I definitely get more comfortable every game," Jennings explained. "At the start of the year I didn't really know where I would fit in or what role I would play on this team. As the year has gone on I've kind of seem my role come into focus a little more."
Jennings got her first action against a home-state team in January when she scored eight points in a 73-59 win over Purdue.
Bluder expected some nervous pregame moments from her freshman in her first action against an Indiana foe.
Jennings provided no such reaction.
"I thought she might have a little more nerves when we played Purdue and it was like 'eh, no,' " Bluder said. "I don't think it really bothered her at all and I don't think playing against Indiana is going to mean a whole lot to her."
That steadiness has been a noticeable trait for Jennings this season, a somewhat surprising revelation for a freshman.
Jennings has scored in double figures in 13 of her 24 career games and has 64 assists to just 48 turnovers this season.
"Each time going out I get a little more comfortable," Jennings said. "I'm just enjoying the time I'm having with my team right now and seeing how far we can go."
For Jennings facing Indiana is big for one reason — it's the next game for her team, which has won nine of its last 10 games and is chasing a Big Ten title.
Jennings doesn't have any former high school or AAU teammates playing for Indiana or Purdue, though she is close friends with Hoosier freshman Maura Muensterman.
She recognizes a few names and knows a few faces on the Indiana roster but expects Sunday to be just another game.
"I maybe know a few more players but when it comes down to things it's just another team that we are playing," Jennings said. "It's not a big deal to me."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Hometown: Logansport, Ind.
Points: 9.4 per game
Assists: 2.7 per game
3-point %: 33 percent