Hawkeye recruit Jinaya Houston's range draws lofty comparisons

Matthew Bain, mbain@press-citizen.com
Davenport North's Jinaya Houston (top) signed her National Letter of Intent for the Iowa women's basketball team this week.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jinaya Houston loves orange chicken, so when current players on Iowa’s women’s basketball team suggested Chinese for dinner, she wasn’t complaining.

She also wasn’t complaining when the waitress said they didn’t serve orange chicken. She wasn’t complaining when her second-choice chicken teriyaki dish turned out to have egg in it, and she normally avoids eating egg.

She still wasn’t complaining when a steaming, dead bug lay sprawled in a crab rangoon served to the table, and the restaurant took more than an hour to get everything fixed.

There was no way she could complain; it’s hard to do when you’re on cloud nine. A Hawkeye fan for life, Houston was on her Oct. 1 official recruiting visit to Iowa City, one short month away from signing her Letter of Intent to join Iowa basketball in 2017. She inked the deal Wednesday. Iowa now has two scholarships available for next season.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve been waiting for this moment since, well for approximately 365 days because I verbally committed around this time (last year),” said Houston, a senior star at Davenport North. “Now that it’s official and the coaches said they can contact me more, just like do more things with me, it’s a real big blessing.”

Iowa 8 guard Jinaya Houston signs National Letter of Intent, will play for Iowa

Houston is a power guard. A point forward. A basketball player with no defined position. She’s 6-foot-1 with just as smooth a 3-point stroke as a slash inside.

She averaged 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.6 blocks per game last year, when she led North to a 20-3 record and its first state tournament berth. She’s a three-time all-Mississippi Athletic Conference honoree, and she was named to the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Eight team before last season.

“It’s kind of like (Duke men's coach Mike Krzyzewski) describing (former Blue Devils star) Jabari Parker a few years ago, where he didn’t really have a position,” Davenport North girls basketball coach Ron O’Brien said. “She doesn’t really have a position. She’s not a 1, 2, 3 or 4; she plays them all. I think she’s got that ability to do that at the college level. I don’t think I’d have her earmarked at the small forward role, probably a little like (Ally) Disterhoft now.”

Added Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder: “Both (Houston and Disterhoft) can beat you off the bounce and both can beat you with 3-range. And both are about 6-foot-1. Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good comparison.”

Houston’s heard the Disterhoft comparison before. Disterhoft is another inside-outside, do-it-all aficionado. She’s an example of what Houston could become after four years in Iowa’s program.

Future teammates see the similarities, too.

“It’s really exciting, especially since we’re losing Ally next year, such a big loss to us,” center Megan Gustafson said. “And to have (Houston) come in, kind of being just like her, it’s exciting to see what can happen with her.”

That’s all on-the-court stuff. How do her intangibles stack up?

“Just a super kid, good student, extremely hard worker, spends a lot of time in the gym,” O’Brien said. “She’s that kid that I gave keys to the gym to in the summer. She’d go up and work out on her own, get the work in and send pictures to me of how many shots she’d make. She’s just an extremely hard worker.”

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ESPN gave Houston three stars and a grade of 90, and it ranks her the No. 19 wing of the 2017 class. Blue Star pegs her as the 118th-best 2017 recruit.

She held offers from Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Cincinnati, Colorado, Michigan and Creighton, among others. Ultimately, Iowa beat out her other top choice in Mizzou, because the Hawkeyes are local. Her family can come see her, something at least one family member has done for every game of her life.

Plus, she thought she fit in with Iowa, schematically and mentally.

“I think, and coach Bluder thinks, I’ll be fitting in as a forward, like a 2 or a 3,” Houston said. “The girls on the team, I’ve gotten to know them really well and I kind of see a similarity in personalities. Just like, the goofiness but also wanting to get better in basketball.

“I didn’t want to be the person on the basketball team that’s the goofiest one and everyone’s all serious, because at Iowa everybody’s laughing and they’re all hanging out together, and that’s the kind of stuff that I wanted to be around. Feels like a family experience.”

Houston’s been attending Iowa’s summer camps at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since seventh grade, developing relationships with coaches each time. She can still hear “word for word” what assistant coach Jan Jensen asked her at one of the first camps she attended.

“Do you want to be a future Hawk some day?”

She did. And now she is.

Bain covers Hawkeyes basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at mbain@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.