With a name that rolls off of the tongue, Jessica January, the talented Minnesotan might have been destined for athletic stardom from the start. Though just a junior, January has made her presence known in the Big East and in the women's basketball community around the country.
The DePaul standout recently sat down to chat academics, life and of course ball. Our interview took place via Skype as I was on holiday in Australia, and January is wearing a Nike puffer jacket, had recently escaped the dropping temperatures on her Chicago campus. Here's what January had to say.
Swish Appeal: What did you do at a young age (around 10 or 11) that laid the groundwork for the success you have managed today?
Jessica January: I played a whole lot of sports, my Dad is into sports, so he put my sister and I into a bunch of sports. I did gymnastics, played softball and basketball, and from there I am really competitive so I continued to play whenever I could. I also had neighbors who were into sports, the people around me were sports fans, and that rubbed off on me.
SA: Minnesota is known for producing great women's basketball players, did that have a factor in your love for basketball and competition?
JJ: I would say so. Growing up being able to see other women playing basketball and achieving success impacted me. My older sister also played basketball, I looked up to her and wanted to be like her.
SA: Around what age did you realize you could play at the college level?
JJ: I didn't really think about playing in college until my sophomore year. I liked competing and playing multiple sports, I did track and played volleyball, sports were just fun. Once I started AAU, I got recruited more seriously, and that's when I realized I could play in college.
SA: Who is the most influential person/mentor in your high school career?
JJ: My Dad. He grew up in the south playing basketball on beat up courts and broken rims. Moving to Minnesota gave him the opportunity to put his kids in organized basketball and AAU. He took the time to take me to the gym and get in extra reps, even on days when I would have rather gone to play with friends.
SA: Did your dad coach you?
He was an assistant coach during my middle school and traveling basketball years.
SA: How was your recruiting process?
JJ: It was pretty stressful. I am soft spoken; I hated talking to coaches because I was very shy. It was an experience, though; I enjoyed it.
SA: How did you decide on DePaul?
JJ: When I took my official visit, being on campus, meeting the players and coaches, it was an easy decision. It felt like the right place.
SA: This is Coach Bruno's 30th year at DePaul, how big of a factor was he in your decision making to go to DePaul? In your three years, what is the most influential thing you learned from him?
JJ: He was a big factor in my decision making. He is a great coach with tons of knowledge of the game. Being able to play under him is an honor and experience in itself. He always tells us his thoughts of the day to help us get through the season. My favorite saying he says is, ‘Wake up in the morning with a smile, thank God. How do you thank God? By working to your God-given potential everyday.'
That sticks with me because there are a lot of people who wish they could wake up everyday and play basketball or could get to school on a scholarship. When you are a student-athlete, sometimes you get lost in that because you are always so busy. Remembering not to take stuff for granted is really important.
SA: Speaking of being busy. Can you walk me through your daily schedule?
JJ: During school practices are scheduled around our classes. Last quarter we had class from 9-1pm, then practice from 230-530 depending on film, going to the trainer and actual time on the court. Then from 6-8, I go to study table to do homework.
I then grab a quick bite to eat before I continue doing homework from 8-10. Friday through Sunday we do not have class, so there is a bit more free time to go shopping, go out to eat or go to the movies, especially if we have a day off.
SA: Have you always been a great student?
JJ: I am really competitive in all aspects of my life including school. I always wanted to be in the advanced classes in high school and middle school. I have wanted to do well in school my whole life.
SA: How do you maintaining the balance between school, sports, and a school life?
JJ: It has gotten easier as I am a junior now. Coach Bruno does a really good job with that in terms of he wants us to have a social life and be college students. He tries to make practice times reasonable and gives us days off to enjoy other things. I also find time management really important. I want to get things done so I can have time to do other things that I want to do. I take academics as seriously as I do basketball
SA: This year you had to step in and fill Brittany Hrynko's shoes, and take on a larger leadership role than last year. How did you take on doing that this season? Has being a leader always been something you have been good at?
JJ: This year we knew were going to be missing Brittany. Coming in I wasn't looking to fill Britt's shoes, but step into a leadership role doing whatever I could. I knew we were going to need scoring, but my goal was to be more aggressive rather than be the leading scorer.
I also wanted to be more of a vocal leader. My freshman and sophomore year I didn't have the confidence to do that, but as an upperclassman, I have shown through my actions that I can lead on the floor. This year it is a little easier to be more vocal.
SA: What is your leadership style?
JJ: I lead by example. I admire Chanise Jenkins as a vocal leader. She is great at communicating without even trying, I have had her to look up to which has helped me as a vocal leader this year.
SA: Do you have pregame rituals?
JJ: I take a nap and listen to Beyonce.
SA: Who is the best player you have played against?
JJ: Breanna Stewart. Last year I guarded her at UConn. I don't think the TV always does players justice. She is such a dynamic player, and when you play against her, you realize how good she really is.
SA: After you graduate have you started thinking about playing professionally?
JJ: I want to play afterwards whether in the WNBA or overseas.
While the name may have always had star power, it is clear Jessica January doesn't have any plans to slow down anytime soon. The ultra-competitive junior has basketball running through her veins; we will just have to wait and see what she and the DePaul Blue Demons will conquer next.