Penny, Smith, Reynolds to Make Farewell Performance at Senior Night
March 2, 2014
CHICAGO - They sat together doing an interview just as they often hang out together at the kitchen table of their Centennial Hall apartment discussing for two hours or more life's endless possibilities and simply bonding as roommates and teammates.
The senior trio will be honored on Tuesday on Senior Night when the Blue Demons seek to clinch their first BIG EAST Conference regular-season title with an 8 p.m. game against Georgetown at McGrath-Phillips Arena. DePaul is 23-6, 14-3 in the BIG EAST Conference.
At the interview, Penny, Reynolds and Smith were asked to replay in their mind's eye the last four seasons of running and hustling under coach Doug Bruno while reflecting on all the residual benefits and blessings of their life experience in Lincoln Park.
Penny is the ever-evolving, 6-foot, 1-inch forward from Logansport, Ind. who has been asked to anchor the inside game for DePaul in the absence of experienced, low-post players.
Working herself into the best shape of her basketball career has enabled the soft-spoken senior to take off in the Blue Demons' high-energy, fast-paced attack and cash in on transition layups and point-blank shots.
Dual playmakers Brittany Hrynko (BIG EAST leader in assists and steals) and Chanise Jenkins along with backcourt mates Megan Rogowski (BIG EAST leader in three-point shooting), Jessica January, roomie Reynolds and Centrese McGee keep Penny in their sights like a quarterback targeting a wide receiver. In the half-court offense, the guards watch for Penny cutting backdoor and lead her to the hoop.
It's no wonder Penny pulled off an extraordinary stretch of lighting up the scoreboard this season.
Beginning on Dec. 29 of last year and continuing to Jan. 14, the talented forward scored 21 points or more in six consecutive games. It began at Bradley with 29 points and five rebounds and continued with 27 points against Xavier. Next came a 26-point, six-rebound game at Creighton followed by 23 points and seven boards against Providence. St. John's watched Penny put up 23 points and collect five rebounds. The streak culminated with 21 points and 11 rebounds against Seton Hall.
Penny leads the Blue Demons in scoring at nearly 16 points per game and leads the BIG EAST in field goal percentage.
"I owe a lot of that to the play of our guards," said Penny who is among three active players in the BIG EAST with 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds. "I couldn't have done it without the guards getting me the ball on the fast break or finding me around the basket.
"This season, I'm in better shape than in past years and can play a lot more. I expected to do well and to play a bigger role on the team this year. I always liked the way Keisha (ex-DePaul standout Keisha Hampton) was so competitive all the time, and I wanted to be like that as a senior."
Reynolds is also finishing up strong after transferring from Boston College and sitting out the 2010-11 season per NCAA transfer rules. Coming off the bench, she had 10 points and three rebounds against Louisiana Monroe in helping DePaul capture the Duel in the Desert title in Las Vegas just before Christmas.
The 5-7 senior from Mishawaka, Ind. came away with 13 points and six rebounds at Bradley and had seven points and six rebounds at Northwestern.
"This has been the best season I've had at DePaul," Reynolds said. "I totally understand my role in bringing a lot of energy off the bench and doing the little things that make us successful. I'm looking to knock down some shots and definitely get the ball to Jas.
"She is always getting out on the fast break, and when she scores, it's almost casual because she is so smooth out there. Nothing fancy, she just gets it done. Jas is very efficient, and her game seems to mirror her personality."
Injuries have plagued Smith ever since transferring from Michigan State in January of 2012 and sitting out until her first game as a Blue Demon on Nov. 22, 2012 against Florida Gulf Coast.
Last season, the 6-4 post player from St. Charles North came off the bench and contributed eight points and six rebounds against Northwestern and finished with eight points and nine rebounds against Northern Illinois.
Injuries limited her to playing in three of the team's first 18 games this season. She returned on Feb. 1 at Providence to play in six consecutive games with six points and two rebounds against Butler on Feb. 22. She saw action in Saturday's 80-65 victory at St. John's.
"Sitting out and not playing was tough," Smith said about 2012. "You're still doing all the work and practicing every day but you can't play.
"I was always on the scout team in practice getting our players ready for their next opponent. Kelsey Reynolds and I talked about the whole experience since she had gone through that (sitting out) the year before. Kelsey and Jas were always open about talking to me even though they are both quiet.
"I was injured for part of last season and have missed most of this season so far with an injury. It's hard to come back although I'm starting to feel healthy again now.
"What I learned while sitting out is to think about the team ahead of myself. I try to encourage everyone and look at things from a positive standpoint. Sure, it's frustrating. It's hard to get on a roll when injuries pop up. You learn to take what comes and hopefully fight through it."
Reynolds glanced over at her teammate.
"We're counting on Kelsey to help us inside, especially with rebounding," Reynolds said. "We certainly can use another big person out there."
All the talk of injury triggered a memory of the 2011-12 "Magnificent Seven," when the depleted Blue Demons were down to seven healthy bodies for games. Despite losing five players to season-ending injuries, coach Doug Bruno did a masterful job in leading the Magnificent Seven to a 23-11 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"I'll always remember how short the lines were in practice during our running drills," Penny said. "We did a great job of staying together. We kept a good attitude and didn't make excuses. Coach Bruno always told us that nobody is going to feel sorry for us, and he wouldn't let us feel sorry for ourselves."
Reynolds nodded her head in affirmation.
"We took that to heart that nobody cares if we only have seven players," Reynolds said. "We proved to everyone that we could still win with only seven healthy players, and Doug did a great job getting us through the hard times."
Smith could only commiserate from the sideline after arriving in Lincoln Park from East Lansing, Mich.
"I felt so bad watching them with so few people at practice," Smith said. "But everyone worked so hard, hung together and they got a lot done."
So, just what distinguishes these seniors from the rest of the team?
"What defines the senior class is that all three of us have great attitudes," said Penny who leads the team in scoring at nearly 16 points per game. "We're very responsible about what we do for the team, and we are three people you can always count on."
They are looking to excel on and off the court.
"We contribute to the team chemistry and help set the tone," Reynolds said. "Jas is quiet and leads by example.
"We also really focus on our academics. Our combined grade-point average is around 3.8 which is the highest for any class on our team."
Smith added: "I think Kelsey and Jas both lead by example. People look up to them. The way they work so unselfishly with everyone is admirable."
Smith, Reynolds and Penny will be suiting up for the last time at McGrath-Phillips Arena in the regular-season finale.
"I'm starting to realize that will be the final game of my basketball career," Smith said. "I'm going to be both excited and sad knowing we have come this far as a team and now it's the last home game."
Reynolds had a similar sentiment.
"It will be bittersweet," she said. "It's time to face a life without basketball. Playing at DePaul has brought a lot of great memories and fun times. Playing at home for the last time in front of family and friends is going to be really sad.
"But it's also exciting that I'm moving on to the next part of my life and getting ready to try something new."
Penny was hesitant to contemplate a life without basketball.
"There's going to be a little bit of uncertainty for me," Penny said. "Basketball is something I've been good at all my life and I'm not going to keep on playing after I graduate.
"For me, life after basketball is going to be a challenge. But I have a lot of life to look forward to, and I'm so glad DePaul has done its best to prepare me for the next step."
When the time comes to move out of their Centennial Hall apartment, all three will pack up some lasting memories.
"Snorkeling in the Virgin Islands last year with the team," Penny said with a smile. "I don't really like being in water, but it was fun. The water was so warm and I enjoyed seeing the turtles."
Reynolds said: "I'll always remember the Hawaii trip my sophomore year. I love history and stuff like that, so the private Pearl Harbor tour we took was really special. I liked experiencing the laid-back Hawaiian lifestyle, the gorgeous beaches and warm weather.
"That was the trip when Deanna Ortiz got up and did a totally spontaneous impersonation of a Doug Bruno speech---raspy voice and all. She had all of his mannerisms down perfectly. Doug watched it and he was laughing with the rest of us."
Smith's lasting memory is a simple one.
"I'm going to miss our times off the court---the kitchen talks," Smith said. "There are times when we'll still be chatting at our kitchen table two hours later. We'll talk about what's going to happen after college, where we'll live and what our kids' names are going to be.
"I'm going to miss DePaul."