There is something special about Whitney Jennings, a 5-5 bundle of energy and enthusiasm.
Logansport High School girls basketball coach Jerry Hoover and the program’s fans noticed long ago. The University of Iowa women’s basketball coaching staff certainly recognized it. Even a delegation from Jinhua, Logansport’s sister city in China, took note after seeing her play on a visit to Indiana. When they were asked what group of Logansport students they wanted to have visit China on a cultural exchange, it didn’t take them long to answer.
“They said, ‘Send us that little blonde girl,'” said Hoover, whose team visited Jinhua last fall. “I don’t think there is any question if we didn’t have Whitney Jennings, we wouldn’t have gone to China.”
Jennings has captured the attention of Indiana coaches and media members, too. In statewide voting, Jennings captured the IndyStar Miss Basketball award, an annual honor for the state’s top senior. Of the 332 votes cast, Jennings earned 177, 80 more than second-place finisher Maura Muensterman from Evansville Mater Dei. No one else had more than 10 votes.
“I always dreamed about it,” Jennings said. “I never really let myself believe it could actually happen. From my freshman year, people said maybe you could win Miss Basketball. But I just knew I had to have four really good years and whatever happens happens.”
What happened this season is the Iowa-bound Jennings capped her stellar career by leading the state in scoring at 32 points per game. In addition, the point guard averaged eight rebounds, 7.4 assists and five steals per game as Logansport (24-3) reached the Class 4A semistate before losing to Penn.
For Jennings, it was the culmination of years of hard work.
“She’s just a gym rat,” said her father Doug Jennings, who spent the past 10 seasons as a Logansport girls basketball assistant coach. “I have to pull her back once in awhile because she practices so much. She needs to rest her legs sometimes.”
For the past 10 summers, Jennings and her father go to the gym at 6:30 every morning until he goes to work at 8. Often they were joined by Jennings’ older siblings or other members of the team. Jennings then goes home to eat breakfast and often heads back to the school to lift weights and work out, her father said.
Jennings began going to Hoover’s D-One girls basketball camps in Fort Wayne before starting fourth grade; tagging along with older sisters Shannon and Rachel. The camps were designed for junior high and high school students. Whitney would play against the junior high girls when they first started going.
“Whitney took her lumps when she was little,” her father said of playing against older girls. “She got knocked down a lot and sometimes she would come out crying. But she loved it. She kept coming back and got better and better.”
Hoover had his eye on Jennings’ skills before that.
“As a first-grader she could get the ball up to the basket so her strength was good at that age,” Hoover said. “Most first-graders are lucky to get it six or seven feet in the air but she could shoot from 12-feet in. I also noticed she had a natural flair for getting the right spin on the ball.”
Hoover, a former Purdue player who has coached for more than 40 years, said Jennings’ work ethic stands out.
“She probably spends more time at it than any player I’ve ever coached,” Hoover said.
Jennings’ mother, Carol, said most people comment on how she plays hard every second.
“She never takes a break,” Carol said. “She moves at such a high speed, I don’t know how she keeps it up.”
Jennings’ ball-handling skills and agility allows her to dribble two basketballs at one time between her legs. It was skill she demonstrated several times in China, Hoover said.
However, her greatest balancing act comes from playing three sports at Logansport while maintaining a 4.2 grade point average (on a 4.0 weighed scale). She is ranked seventh in her senior class of 286.
Jennings will earn her 12th varsity letter while playing tennis this spring. She has a 68-6 record in her first three seasons as the Berries’ No. 1 singles player. She also scored 28 goals for the soccer team as a senior.
“A lot of people quit (playing multiple) sports in high school because they want to focus on just one,” she said. “I feel playing those other sports has made me a better basketball player. Not necessarily the skills involved, but just the competitive mindset and the mental aspect.
“I’m always in gym shooting after soccer or tennis practice. It can make for long days after school (but) if I could go back and change it, I wouldn’t. I’ve loved playing all three sports.”
Jennings, 18, is the fourth of the family’s five children. Shannon, now 24, Rachel, 19, and brother Jared, 22, also played basketball for Logansport. Matt, 15, became the final sibling to play for the Logansport’s varsity, making the team as a freshman this season.
Shannon played soccer at Bethel College, Rachel just completed her freshman season playing basketball at Bethel and Jared played basketball for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Their first cousin Betsy Adams was a 2008 Indiana All-Star from Twin Lakes.
Doug played for Argos High School’s Final Four team in the single-class basketball system in 1979 and then for the University of Indianapolis (then Indiana Central). Her mother Carol (maiden name Adams) played basketball for Bremen High School.
“I’ve always had that drive to succeed,” Jennings said. “I think it just comes from my family. People have always encouraged me to work really hard. I’ve been blessed with a lot of God-given ability so I’ve worked really hard to succeed at it.”
Jennings said it helped that she had older siblings who paved the way.
“They were my role models,” she said. “I just wanted to try to be better than them I guess.”
Call Star reporter Mark Ambrogi at (317) 444-6047. Follow him on Twitter: @mark_ambrogi.
School: Logansport, 24-3, lost to Penn in 4A Crown Point Semistate
College: Signed with Iowa
2013-14: Averaged 32 points, 7.4 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 steals
2012-13: Averaged 23.6 points, 7.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 steals
2011-12: Averaged 25.4 points, 7 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 3.6 steals
2010-11: Averaged 24.2 points, 5.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.9 steals
Named First-Team All-North Central Conference in soccer, basketball and tennis since freshman year
2013-14 Gatorade Indiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year
2013-14 Parade All-American
Helped Logansport to 86-14 record in four seasons
Fifth all-time in state in scoring with 2,641 points
Fourth all-time in state in assists with 699
Seventh all-time in state in steals with 404
INDYSTAR MISS BASKETBALL
1976: Judi Warren, Warsaw.
1977: Teri Rosinski, Norwell.
1978: Chanda Kline, Warsaw.
1979: LaTaunya Pollard, East Chicago Roosevelt.
1980: Maria Stack, Columbus East.
1981: Cheryl Cook, Washington.
1982: Trena Keys, Marion.
1983: Jody Beerman, Heritage.
1984: Sharon Versyp, Mishawaka.
1985: Jodie Whitaker, Austin.
1986: Kim Barrier, Jimtown.
1987: Lori Meinerding, Fort Wayne Northrop.
1988: Vicki Hall, Brebeuf Jesuit.
1989: Renee Westmoreland, Scottsburg.
1990: Patricia Babcock, Culver Academies.
1991: Jennifer Jacoby, Rossville.
1992: Marla Inman, Bedford North Lawrence.
1993: Abby Conklin, Charlestown.
1994: Tiffany Gooden, Fort Wayne Snider.
1995: Stephanie White, Seeger.
1996: Lisa Winter, Huntington North.
1997: Lisa Shepherd, Richmond.
1998: Kelly Komara, Lake Central.
1999: April McDivitt, Connersville.
2000: Sara Nord, Jeffersonville.
2001: Shyra Ely, Ben Davis.
2002: Shanna Zolman, Wawasee.
2003: Katie Gearlds, Beech Grove.
2004: Jaclyn Leininger, Warsaw.
2005: Jodi Howell, Alexandria.
2006: Amber Harris, North Central.
2007: Ta’Shia Phillips, Brebeuf Jesuit.
2008: Brittany Rayburn, Attica.
2009: Skylar Diggins, South Bend Washington.
2010: Courtney Moses, Oak Hill.
2011: Bria Goss, Ben Davis.
2012: Jessica Rupright, Norwell.
2013: Stephanie Mavunga, Brownsburg