DePaul women's basketball point guard Jessica January didn't really have a choice. But it helped nonetheless that when the calendar flipped to 2016 she played her best basketball in the year's first month.
January has added significance for the Blue Demons' consummate leader for more than just her last name. It's the month in which she was born, and the No. 14 on the back of her uniform is also the day she was born.
In 10 January games, the DePaul floor general averaged 12.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 for the Blue Demons, who went 8-2 and, after three straight wins to begin February, sit atop the Big East standings at 12-2.
"We started the first half of the conference really well," she said. "We've just been playing some really good ball this first half of the Big East.
The junior from Richfield, Minn., leads the Big East in assists per game, is fourth in steals per game and ranks in the top 20 in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounding. She's a top 10 finalist for the Nancy Lieberman award, given to the nation's top point guard.
The Blue Demons are in good position to make their 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament. And as head coach Doug Bruno points out, January's competitiveness is a big reason why.
"Jessica is an ultimate and consummate competitor, and she brings competitiveness with everything she does," he said. "Whether it's in school or whether it's in practice or whether it's in the games."
See more about what makes January such a special player for the Blue Demons in the video above.
DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto informed the university she will retire in the coming months after 18 years at the helm.
"It truly has been our privilege and the honor of a lifetime to serve DePaul as athletic director and to witness the unprecedented growth from that ‘little school under the el’ to its current world class University serving students from around the globe," Ponsetto said in a statement.
“The changing times over these past few months has led me to this decision. Having successfully battled two breast cancer diagnoses and currently in treatment for a third, I thought it was time to step away from the long days, working every weekend and the 24/7 demands that being an athletic director requires."
Ponsetto has been a member of DePaul's athletic department since 1974, when she was a four-sport athlete (tennis, volleyball, basketball, softball). After graduating in 1978, she became DePaul's first assistant women's basketball coach. She later spent seven years as the senior associate athletic director before taking over as AD in 2002.
Ponsetto guided DePaul into the Big East from Conference USA in 2003 and helped organize the new Big East in 2013. She oversaw the development of Wintrust Arena, now home to the basketball teams after decades of playing at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
The women's team has made 17 straight NCAA tournaments under head coach Doug Bruno. The men's team hasn't made the tournament since 2004 and has just two winning seasons since (2006-07, 2018-19). Ponsetto has hired three coaches in that span: Jerry Wainwright, Oliver Purnell and Dave Leitao — who is in his second stint as head coach.
The NCAA put DePaul's men's basketball program on probation for three years last summer due to a recruiting violation, of one two controversies to surround the athletic department in recent years. In April, a sports psychologist formerly affiliated with DePaul filed a lawsuit claiming she was terminated after raising concerns of former softball coach Eugene Lenti's abusive behavior towards players. Lenti is Lenti Ponsetto's brother.
Ponsetto will stay in her role and assist DePaul in its transition to a new AD. The university plans to conduct a national search for her replacement this summer.
The NCAA still won’t be paying its players, but it will allow student-athletes to receive endorsements from third-parties.
The governmental body for college athletics has long been a strong proponent of its athletes being amateurs, but this marks a drastic change in that, even if the schools won’t be allowed to pay the athletes directly. The NCAA’s Board of Governors met this week and supported the changes with some caveats.
“While student-athletes would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, the use of conference and school logos, trademarks or other involvement would not be allowed,” a press release from the NCAA read. “The board emphasized that at no point should a university or college pay student-athletes for name, image and likeness activities.”
The rule changes aren’t officially in place and must be implemented by the three divisions of college athletics that fall under the NCAA. The next step is for each division to make the actual rules the board of governors supported. The goal is for that to be in place in January and to take effect for the 2021-22 school year.
“The board’s action is the latest step by the Association to support college athletes and modernize its rules regarding name, image and likeness,” the press release read.
The process for this started back in October and has remained on track for January 2021.
Maybe the next time a player like Zion Williamson gets hurt busting his shoe open on the court, he can switch shoe companies and make some money off it?