DeKALB – Wherever she has played basketball, Jenna Thorp, the starting junior forward on the Northern Illinois University women’s basketball team, has been successful.
In fact, when she was in middle school, she played on her older brother’s traveling basketball team. The school was small, she said, and there weren’t enough players to fill out a team.
Growing up in Hinckley, Thorp was the most valuable player for the Hinckley Big-Rock girls basketball team that won back-to-back 1A state titles in 2008 and 2009. A four-year unanimous all-conference selection, the three-time captain was a three-time DeKalb Daily Chronicle Girls Basketball Player of the Year and three-time IBCA first team, all-state honoree. Her senior year, she placed eighth in voting for Illinois Ms. Basketball while claiming the Chronicle’s Girls Athlete of the Year, earning a scholarship to NIU.
After sitting out her freshman year when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, Thorp is in her third season with the Lady Huskies.
Off the court, the daughter of Judy and Bruce Thorp has been just as successful. A member of the honor roll, she placed on the HBR academic team as a junior and senior, was a member of the Honor Society, the Spanish Club, student council, Leadership Retreat and IDAA Youth Board. In her spare time, she also volunteers for Special Olympics and the American Auxiliary.
Thorp spent a few minutes during a bus ride to Ball State last week talking on the phone to MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.
MidWeek: Growing up, what sports did you play?
Jenna Thorp: I played a lot of sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, track, everything I could get into.
MW: When did you realize you were good at basketball?
JT: Probably the fourth grade. I always was around my brother, playing sports. He was on a traveling basketball team. Each class had their own traveling team. The fifth grade boys didn’t have enough players. The coach knew me because I was always around and he asked me to play, so I did.
MW: Did it bother you playing on a boys’ team?
JT: At first, I was more nervous, but I didn’t really think about it at all. I played with the boys travel team until the seventh grade at HBR. Then my eighth grade year, I played with the Kaneland boys travel team. In seventh grade, I played on a Kaneland girls travel team as well.
MW: Was going from the boys to the girls a difficult transition?
JT: Not really. I think it definitely helped me develop my game all around. I had to develop being a post player with the boys. With the girls, I played guard. ...They are definitely different.
MW: When you were in high school, did you get many college offers? A lot of players for small schools just don’t get the same attention the big ones do.
JT: To get noticed, I had to play on a ladies travel team during the summer. ...That kind of helped me get my name out there. You kind of have to go seek it yourself. I did get a couple of offers.
MW: Why did you choose NIU?
JT: Once I visited here, I liked all the facilities. (Being so close to Hinckley) it kind of makes you feel at home, kind of like a second family.
MW: Is it a benefit being so close to home?
JT: Definitely. In the end, like on holidays and stuff, you’re not spending half your time going home.
MW: Had you ever played at the Convo Center before?
MW: Since you are so close, do many of your family and friends come to your home games?
JT: They try to, yes, maybe 10 to 15 at each game. On the road, they still try to watch the game on the Internet and try to support that way.
MW: Is there any extra pressure playing so close to home?
JT: I don’t think so. I don’t really look at it that way. It’s just nice to be able to have the support, rather than playing (before all strangers) 1,000 miles away.
MW: How is everything going for you right now?
JT: All right. For me, I’m just trying to improve and be more aggressive on offense. Each game, we’re in need of finishing them out.
MW: When you came to NIU, you pretty much stepped in and started to play right away, didn’t you?
JT: My freshman year, I tore my A.C.L.E. and I sat out the whole year. It definitely hit me hard, but looking past that, I knew I would come back smarter. It was still beneficial. I kind of look at it on the positive side.
MW: How did the injury benefit you?
JT: I kind of observed and learned. You see a lot of things off the court that it’s hard to see on it. I think in the long run that helped me transition from playing high school to college.
MW: What is the biggest difference between high school and college?
JT: It’s just a faster-paced game. And the competition is better. In high school, you might have one or two players that are good on a team. In college, every single player is a great player.
MW: You guys had such a great run in high school. Do you ever keep in touch with your old teammates?
JT: We try to stay in touch. We had a get together last summer for the 2008-09 team. That was nice. Coach Greg Burks is good about keeping in touch with us. Some of them are playing (in college). It’s good to kind of look to see how they are doing.
MW: In high school you were involved in a lot of activities, but you probably don’t have the time in college.
JT: It’s pretty time consuming, basketball and school. During the summer, I help with the family business. We mow yards. (Other than that) I just try to hang out with friends.
MW: With so many long road trips to games, how do you keep up with your studies?
JT: You basically have to stay on top of it. You have to prioritize your time. On long bus trips, you take school work with you on the bus. We have study tables.
MW: So what are your future plans?
JT: Right now, I’m just kind of seeing what happens. I’m hoping to finish out next year.
MW: Any final thoughts about your career?
JT: I had an awesome career at HBR and was able to go on to D-1. I’ll be able to finish out my basketball career. Just to have this experience at this level, no one can ever take away from you. I’m glad I was able to have this experience. I have loved every minute of it.