Prior to this summer, freshman Jaelynn Penn had never traveled outside of the United States.
That changed when she traveled with Coach Teri Moren and the IU women’s basketball team to Italy for a preseason tour. The Hoosiers played three games against Italian teams, got accustomed to their new teammates and even did a little sightseeing.
“Going to a different country was crazy,” Penn said. “My favorite thing we did was ride on the gondola boats.”
There may not be any gondola boats in Bloomington, but it’s still new territory for Penn. Much like Italy, getting accustomed to life on and off the court in Indiana is another of many new experiences that have already come with her young career as a Hoosier.
She credits the helpful leadership of her team’s veterans like seniors Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill with helping her stay confident in any new situation she might find herself in.
“We’ve had some really good conversations with the seniors, mainly about confidence and not worrying about messing up,” Penn said. “They tell us to just keep playing through it because sometimes you’re going to mess up when you’re a freshman.”
Penn is still getting familiar with being a college athlete and fitting into her role within Moren’s system.
During her high school days at Butler Traditional High School in Louisville, Kentucky, the guard made a name for herself as one of the best players in the state. She led her team to two state championships while averaging 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds during her senior year.
That success led to a flurry of awards including being named the 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year in Kentucky and being rated the number 39 recruit in the country.
She was also rated a five-star recruit, which makes her the first player in the history of the IU women’s basketball program to have that distinction coming into their career at IU.
However, with proven stars like Buss and Cahill on the roster, Penn might find herself taking a backseat to being the focal point of the team. That will be yet another new experience for her.
For Moren, she said she’s confident Penn will be able to handle the new role well due to the hard work she’s seen from her in early practices.
“We’ve talked from the beginning about having a game-like pace in everything we do in practice,” Moren said. “Regardless, if we were putting something new in or doing drills, everything she did was with a purpose.”
Although Penn’s role this year might be diminished a bit from what she’s used to, it won’t be a total shift in usage. As Moren has made clear, she and her fellow freshmen will all have to contribute right away.
Penn is one of five freshmen that make up the group of ten eligible players on IU’s roster this year.
Her role this season could come in many forms. She has the ability to be a secondary ball-handler to Buss, a productive rebounder alongside Cahill or an athletic defender to fill the void left by the now-graduated Alexis Gassion.
Penn said she’s come a long way since Italy and has obtained some of the confidence Buss and Cahill have advised her about so she can be ready for any role she may have to take over this year.
“Putting in extra work in the gym boosts my confidence a lot,” Penn said. “I just want to continue going hard and getting positive feedback from my coaches and teammates.”
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