Jenny DeGraaf and her parents took the roughly seven-hour drive from Springboro, Ohio, to University Park a little more than a week ago, hoping the 6-foot-1 forward could perform well at the Lady Lion Elite basketball camp and looking to gauge Coquese Washington’s interest in her talents.
The answer came back, “Very interested.” DeGraaf left Centre County with a scholarship offer and less than 24 hours later, she became the fifth player to orally commit to the Lady Lions’ Class of 2013.
DeGraaf joins 6-3 forward Peyton Whitted (North Gwinnett, Ga.), 6-2 forward Kaliyah Mitchell (Stone Mountain, Ga.), 5-6 guard KeKe Sevillian (Goodrich, Mich.) and 6-6 center Infiniti Alston (Baltimore) in the largest recruiting class since Washington took over the program in the spring of 2007. That class could continue to grow before players are eligible to sign letters-of-intent in November.
While Penn State had shown interest in her for awhile, DeGraaf said the Lady Lions began to get more serious over the past two months.
Still, she arrived for camp not quite sure where she stood.
“We didn’t expect going into the elite camp that we had an offer,” DeGraaf said. “We didn’t expect anything more than a good evaluation of me as a player. That’s really all we were looking to do. We wanted there to be sincere interest, but we weren’t sure because they hadn’t been hard on my case throughout the whole thing.
“I really just wanted to play well and at the end of the day just improve my game and get some good experience,” she added. “It was a great camp and I thought I played really well. ... When Coach Washington gave me that scholarship offer, I was so blown away and speechless. I can say the same for my family, too. We felt blessed in the moment and we still do. The last week has been awesome. It was a great experience looking back at it and I can’t wait for the opportunities to come.”
DeGraaf said she slept on making a decision, but knew there wasn’t much to question. She called Washington last Monday, about a half-hour after Mitchell, to commit. She chose Penn State over Virginia Tech, Marquette, St. John’s, Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Miami and Dayton.
“It was just that gut feeling that athletes talk about,” DeGraaf said of her choice of Penn State. “I just think that’s the feeling I had when I was there. It was really strong and powerful. I was taking a really good look at things while I was there and I really fell in love with everything.”
I fell in love with Coach Washington and the other coaches on the staff. I really clicked with the players and I met the other recruits to commit and I really enjoyed them.
“Obviously, Penn State is a really great school. I had heard the campus was beautiful and I confirmed that on my visit. I just could envision myself there in the future. Everything just felt right there. That’s where I wanted to be and I knew as soon as she offered me that’s where I wanted to go.”
Penn State gets a versatile competitor. DeGraaf averaged 15 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for Springboro, which finished 22-2 last season.
DeGraaf is playing a lot of center in high school, but expects to play small or power forward at Penn State.
“I’d definitely say my strength is shooting,” said DeGraaf, who led her conference with 55 percent marksmanship from the floor and also shot 75 percent from the foul line. “I can shoot the ball really well — about 15 feet is my range and I’m looking to extend my range. I also love running the court and that’s something Penn State likes to do. I thought I would fit really well in that system. I’m working on my quickness and my on-ball defense.
“Coach Washington has seen me and she said I’ve only scratched the surface with my play.”
She’s also a standout volleyball player, a sport she says benefits her basketball game in many ways.
“For a mental break, I really think it helps me a lot,” DeGraaf said. “Physically, it helps a lot with my footwork, my jumping and my timing. I always notice after volleyball season that I’m jumping much higher and the timing to block shots is much better. The both complement each other.”
DeGraaf hopes to follow in her father Jim’s footsteps and coach basketball some day. An honor student, she plans to major in physical therapy at Penn State.
“Knowing I could be around athletes and knowing that I could help them and get back to the game as quickly as possible, that’s really important,” DeGraaf said of her major. “I know that the health of the body is really important to athletes. For me to have hands on experience with that and the athletes, that’s just be something that I’d be super interested in.”
DeGraaf is thankful to have her college decision made before a busy July of AAU basketball. Had she not pulled the trigger, DeGraaf said she would have felt extra pressure to perform in the summer tournaments.
“I wasn’t going to commit just to commit so I didn’t have to worry about July,” she explained. “After I visited Penn State, everything just fell into place.
“It’s so much pressure off me. I can just go and play, enjoy the game, have fun with my team and get out there and tear it up.”
And she can’t wait to “tear it up” at the Bryce Jordan Center with her new teammates. The Lady Lions finished 24-6 last season, won a Big Ten regular season title and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t know a ton of other girls that are coming in with me, but I know that they are players and I’m excited to be a part of that and the program and continuing what seems to be greatness right now,” DeGraaf said.
Walt Moody can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt