by Beau Wicker
During her senior season at Logansport, Jasmine Penny put up 25 points and 9 rebounds per game almost like clockwork.
While her numbers haven’t been as gaudy at DePaul, her consequent performances are similar in one important way.
“Jasmine is one of the most consistent players I’ve ever coached at DePaul,” said Blue Demons coach Doug Bruno, who will be entering his 28th year at the helm at the basketball tradition-rich school in Chicago.
Bruno is expecting big things from Penny for her upcoming senior season.
“I really think she has a chance to be an All-Big East player,” he said. “We know how good she is. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to figure out how good she is.
“For the rest of the world to figure out how good she is, she needs to improve on a couple more things. She has a very consistent shooting percentage — she takes good shots — but she’s reluctant to take shots away from the basket. They’re not going to guard her outside if she’s not going to shoot that 18-footer. But she can shoot the ball. She still scores around the basket and is strong going to the hoop. If they play off her she needs to make them pay for that. And she needs to rebound better. She’s a good rebounder but she can be a very good rebounder.”
All-Big East honors would certainly be nice for Penny.
“That’s been a goal since I’ve been here is to make one of the All-Big East teams,” she said.
Penny, a 6-1 forward, has started 56 consecutive games for the Blue Demons. She averaged 12.8 ppg last season finishing third on the team and 22nd in the Big East. She paced DePaul in scoring in eight games on the year and scored a career-high 29 in a win over Seton Hall.
She led DePaul in field goal percentage (.538, 171 for 318) and ranked 12th in Division I and second in the Big East in that category. Her 2.8 offensive rebounds per game ranked seventh in the Big East.
She shot a perfect 6 of 6 from the field in DePaul’s win over Louisville on Jan. 5. Louisville later stunned Baylor in NCAA Tournament play before losing to Connecticut in the national championship game.
For the second straight season injuries wrecked the Blue Demons’ season. They finished 21-12 and lost to Oklahoma St. as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tourney.
“I was shocked we won 21 games because we were never able to hit our stride,” Bruno said. “When Jasmine was a sophomore we had injuries but by Jan. 20 we knew what we had to deal with and we knew who our seven players were going to be. Last year was so much harder because we were constantly losing people and getting people back. We were obviously happy to get people back but we were constantly retooling the team. When you’re constantly in a state of restructuring, it hurts everybody and nobody can get in any kind of rhythm.”
Said Penny: “Hopefully we get through a season injury free. We could stick together as a whole team. When people get hurt the team dynamic gets messed up. If we stay together we’ll be a lot tougher at the end.”
The Blue Demons will be shooting for a 12th consecutive NCAA Tourney appearance next winter.
“I think we have a chance to be pretty good. How good, it’s too early to tell,” Bruno said. “There’s a difference between pretty good and really good. We still have to get together and figure things out as a team. It’s always bad news to have injuries but the good thing is it forces people in roles before they’re ready and they come back with more experience.”
Penny is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“I think that we will be good. We’ve got some starters back and we’ve got a good group of freshmen coming in. Being my senior year, I’m excited about the upcoming year. Hopefully we’ll go further than last year,” she said.
As a team last year DePaul finished with a program-best cumulative team grade-point average of 3.625, which tied for second best in the nation. Along with the distinction of their No. 2 ranking, the Blue Demons are one of just two programs to have gone to the NCAA Tournament and be ranked in the Academic Top 25.
Penny has a 3.4 GPA majoring in sociology with a concentration in health and human services. She’s set to graduate next June.
“She’s a great young woman to coach, a great person,” Bruno said. “She has great talent on the floor and is a greater person off the floor.
“I’ve seen this happen, she’s starting to lead more. She’s a classic quiet leader, doesn’t want to say too much. But she’s started to demonstrate assertiveness which is very much needed for us.”
The Big East will have a different look this upcoming season. Seven members of the original Big East Conference: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova remain. But the conference had a split from the football playing schools in order to focus on basketball. Butler, Creighton and Xavier also joined the conference on its July 1, 2013 launch date. The football-playing members of the old Big East joined with several other schools to form the American Athletic Conference, which retains the old Big East’s structure.
“The Big East is a really strong league, but it’s a different strong,” Bruno said. “We’re losing some really good teams and adding good teams. Creighton beat Syracuse and beat South Florida by 20. South Florida was an overtime away from getting to the Sweet 16 or further. We added some good teams. We lost the juggernauts [Notre Dame and Connecticut], but what we do at DePaul, we always play the juggernauts in the league or outside the league. We’ll go out to South Bend to play Notre Dame. We still play Kentucky. We play a variety of BCS schools. What we lose in Notre Dame and UConn we’ll gain in the non-conference. This is the fifth different league format I’ve been in at one school. We understand how to make this work.”