Women’s hoops embraces newcomers; Coach Grentz seeks return to NCAAs

Womens hoops embraces newcomers; Coach Grentz seeks return to NCAAs

By Dave Fultz

Born on an Air Force base, Rebecca Harris has gotten accustomed to moving around.

“I’m a military brat,” Harris said. “I was born in California, I moved to the Philippines when I was two months old until I was five, then we had to go to Japan, Germany, Holland, Korea. I’ve been here and there.”

The only home that has stayed constant throughout her life has been the basketball court. The junior transfer started playing basketball at age two and dreams of playing professionally after her days as an Illini are through.

Her college career got off to a great start at nearby Rend Lake College, a junior college a mere forty minutes from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

There she received many accolades and plenty of attention as a Lady Warrior.

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    Glenn Box, her coach at Rend Lake, can say nothing but good things about his former point guard.

    “She put up huge numbers at this level and I believe that she will contribute at Illinois,” said Box in an e-mail interview. “She will do whatever it takes to be a productive member of that program. (Rebecca) was able to fill up a stat sheet here at RLC, however, her role will be different at Illinois.”

    After two seasons with Rend Lake, Harris has transferred to Illinois and is adjusting well to life with the Orange & Blue.

    “It just seemed like an obvious choice when I came on my visit,” Harris said. “My family came too and they loved it.”

    Harris, a 5-foot-8-inch point guard, knows what she has to do when she gets on a basketball court and has adapted her game since transferring to Illinois. As a Lady Warrior, Harris was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American in 2005-06. She ranked third in the nation in scoring with 23.6 points per game and also ranked ninth in the nation in assists per game with an average of 5.6.

    Her ability to get her teammates involved is what women’s basketball head coach Theresa Grentz will count on from Harris this season.

    “Rebecca is a junior college point guard that did an awful lot of scoring at Rend Lake,” Grentz said on Illini Basketball Media Day. “She found ways to score, off the dribble, extra rebounds, penetrating. This kid can score, but for us she is going to play the point. We are looking for her to distribute the ball, but at the same time, if it gets kicked back, she’s not afraid to shoot the ball.”

    Harris understands her new role and is adapting very well to her new responsibilities on a very different team.

    “In the past, I was scoring so much because it was more like I had to,” Harris said. “Now I’m surrounded by a very talented team who can do a lot, I don’t have to do as much out there.”

    The other talented newcomer this season is true freshman Jenna Smith. The 6-foot-3-inch forward-center comes to Illinois as the reigning Ms. Basketball of the state of Minnesota and the state’s career leader in blocks. She chose Illinois over Big Ten rivals Minnesota and Iowa.

    “I just felt the most comfortable here,” said Smith before practice on Wednesday. “I wanted to be away from home – but not too far – and I also wanted to play against Minnesota and Iowa. The girls and the coaches here just made me feel really comfortable.”

    Last year’s freshman class featured six newcomers that were able to experience college basketball for the first time together. Smith is the only freshman this season, but hasn’t let that bother her.

    “I didn’t really know what to expect or what to do,” Smith said. “But it’s also nice being the only one because everyone looks after you more than they would have usually.”

    Grentz has been impressed with her quick transition to the college game and expects big things out of Smith.

    “She is a sweet, sweet young woman,” Grentz said. “But extremely competitive in the interior. If she keeps working she is going to have a great future. I just love her as a person and I think they have all taken her under their wing.”

    Smith, Harris, and the rest of the talented team that Grentz and her staff have put together have high hopes for this upcoming season. Grentz has stated her desire to return to the NCAA Tournament after two straight appearances in the WNIT.

    “We expect to go into this (season) wholeheartedly and do what we have to do to come out with wins,” Harris said. “We are ready to work for it.”