Opinion: Filling some big shoes
When I first started working for the Sentinel, my first career assignment was to head out to Basehor-Linwood High School to work up a quick story about Basehor-Linwood Middle School basketball coach Jeff Venema's summer hoops camp.
It didn't take long for me to realize that working with Venema would be a joy. He was energetic, fun, enthusiastic and seemed to truly love the game of basketball.
But one thing, above everything else he said that day, always stuck with me. That was a statement about one of his helpers, former Bobcat Alex Jeannin.
"This young lady started on the varsity squad last season as a freshman," Venema told me. Wow, I thought to myself.
Where I came from -- Lawrence High School and its enrollment of 2,100+ students -- freshmen rarely played on the junior varsity team, let alone the varsity. Because of that, just hearing Venema's words blew my mind.
For the next three seasons, I watched Alex battle through knee injury after knee injury, tough break after tough break. She was a heck of a competitor and she never gave up, but injuries stole her promising basketball career out from under her.
It's a shame, too. Alex comes from a wonderful basketball family and from talking to people who saw her play before the injuries, it sounds like Alex had a chance to be something really special. Even with all of her injuries, she still set the school's all-time assist record and was a productive -- albeit slower -- player for four straight years.
When Alex graduated, I wondered what would become of her younger sisters. They were always around the gym -- whether it be bouncing basketballs or bouncing off the walls -- and I knew they played the game, too. But I wasn't sure if they could live up to playing in the shadow of their big sister.
I have my answer.
Ashley and Amber Jeannin have turned out to be fantastic basketball players and I can only guess that the best is yet to come for both of them.
Ashley, a junior, is a starter on this year's varsity squad. She played big minutes as a sophomore, as well, but has started to come into her own during her junior year. Last season she was a bit timid, not very aggressive with the basketball, but not very careless either.
Now, Ashley is a cold-blooded assassin with a million-dollar smile. She plays harder than anyone on the floor and often has been the spark for the Lady Bobcats throughout the season. Defensively, she's a nightmare for opponents, as her effort and energy cause fits for the players she guards. Offensively, she's more confident than ever and has found her rhythm as a shooter and a tough rebounder despite being one of the smallest players on the floor.
Amber, a sophomore, hasn't had quite as many opportunities to shine. But her time will come. Like Ashley once was, Amber is quiet for now, careful to stick to the fundamentals and make sure all of her minutes on the floor are productive minutes. She, too, is often one of the smallest players on the floor, but there's something inside of those Jeannin girls that brings out the animal in each of them.
Once upon a time, I had grand plans to compare these girls to each other and hold them to the standard that Alex set for the entire family. But after watching all of them play, I've discovered that they're three completely different basketball players, each with different strengths and weaknesses.
Now the only thing that occupies my mind when I think of the Jeannin sisters is how incredible it would be to have them all in the same starting five.