November 14, 2013

Bluder's foresight helps land Jennings

By Beau Wicker Pharos-Tribune

---- — Logansport basketball fans that have enjoyed watching the Whitney Jennings Show at the Berry Bowl the last three years can consider Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder the smartest person in the room.

Bluder was the first big-time college coach to say that Jennings could play at the top level of college basketball and the first to offer her a scholarship two summers ago following Jennings’ freshman year of high school.

That foresight helped Bluder and Iowa land Logansport’s star point guard, arguably the best player in the talent-rich state of Indiana.

“We were among the first to see her play and right away it was pretty obvious she was a talented competitor,” Bluder said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “She was good back then. I think she was tremendous even as a sophomore.

“I think she’s tremendous. I think she’s going to be an impact player in the Big Ten. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s going to be an impact player in the Big Ten Conference. She fits right in with our style. We like to push, we like to have scoring point guards. So she is ideal within our system here at Iowa.”

Bluder said Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class was ranked 28th in the nation by the Blue Star Report.

“I agree or think it’s even better than that,” Bluder said. “We have covered all of our needs. We have a point guard, a wing, a power forward and a center coming in. So almost one of every position, and we only lose one player to graduation next year. So those four will be coming in and joining a good team but making it definitely deeper than it is now and just adding some more athleticism to it.”

Jennings’ size or lack thereof — she stands in at 5-foot-5 — caused some big-time coaches to overlook her. But not Bluder.

“It doesn’t bother me. I don’t think you can have a team of smaller sized players, but with one point guard that doesn’t bother me. It never shied me away from recruiting her at all. We’ve had success with smaller scoring point guards, great success,” she said. “Kamille Wahlin was a player for us with the same kind of stature and she was an All-Big Ten performer. Kristi Smith, another player, she was from Denver, Colo., she was All-Big Ten for us and she was the same type of size as Whitney. And after saying that, I think Whitney is a better scorer than both of those players were. So it doesn’t bother me, but again you can’t be recruiting a whole team of those, but you can certainly have one or two players on the floor that are smaller in size.”

Bluder was happy to land a top player from Indiana and added, “I’m always glad to get great players from out of state because Iowa in the Big Ten, we are one of the least populated states in the Big Ten. So we have to go farther out to get recruits. In fact in this recruiting class we don’t have anyone from Iowa, we have four players from out of state and one from out of the country even. So for us it’s something that we have to do and be able to convince players to go a little bit farther away from home to compete us. But I really believe once the players get here they feel like this is family, and that helps us counter the distance they are having to travel.”

Jennings is used to playing in front of large crowds for the Berries and that will continue next year for the Hawkeyes.

“Last year we were the 19th best attendance team in the United States. We average about 5,000 people at a game. We think that’s good but we also want to do better,” Bluder said. “So we’re striving to continue to grow that and we have great administrator support. Last year we were one of the 16 sites to host the NCAA first and second round and we’re doing that again this year. That’s based a lot on your fan support and it’s also based on your administrative support and quality of your program. We’re proud of that, and we’re excited about hosting again this year.”

Another recruiting advantage for Bluder is the Big Ten Network.

“For example this year we have eight games on the network but then every game other than that you can subscribe to it on the computer,” she said. “So when you have players that come from a little farther away, their parents can still see them play virtually every game.”

There could be a spike of online subscribers to the Big Ten Network in the Logansport area next year considering the large crowds she helps draw in town.

“She’s an exciting player,” Bluder said. “It’s almost like when she has the ball in her hands, don’t blink because something’s going to happen.”

The Hawkeyes are off to a 3-0 start to the season which includes a win over No. 14-ranked Dayton on Sunday.

Bluder said both the present and future are bright for the Hawks.

“Next year when Whitney comes in we’re only going to lose one senior. This year we lost three seniors, two that were starters for us, but I think we have all the components to have a really good basketball team again,” she said. “We’re off to a 2-0 start including beating Dayton, ranked No. 14 in the country last week. So that was a good win for us especially this early in the year. But we’re a team that we’re up-tempo, we score a lot of points, we play an exciting style. I think that’s why fans enjoy watching our team is not only do we have a fun style but they enjoy getting to know the players personally because we have great kids on our team.”

Bluder is not sure how the lineup will shape up next season but said Jennings will play as a freshman.

“It is a ways away. We don’t make those kinds of decisions until next fall when we need to. But I can assure you that she’s going to see plenty of playing time as a freshman,” she said.