Inside a glass frame was a white IU jersey with the crimson number “5” and “Indiana” emblazoned across the chest.
Up came IU senior guard Grace Withrow, her mom on her right and dad on her left, as she was applauded by the 5,857 fans in attendance for IU’s final game of the regular season against Purdue on Sunday. Withrow stood next to her framed jersey and smiled for a picture.
It was a moment she never thought she’d experience in her time at IU.
Withrow grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana, and played basketball at Valparaiso High School, scoring over 1,000 points and averaging 15 points per game in her four-year career as a Viking. She had some offers from mid-major schools but ultimately wanted to go to a big school and have a Big Ten experience.
“If that meant I couldn’t play basketball, that was OK,” Withrow said.
Withrow committed to IU and began her freshman year in the fall of 2015. She said she had fun and school was great in her first two years, but it felt like something was missing.
In her junior year, she worked at Varsity Properties on Dunn Street, and one day her boss came in and told her she heard the IU women’s basketball team was holding tryouts and that Withrow should go since she always talks about how she misses the game.
Withrow still played basketball here and there at IU’s recreational centers and even played on an intramural team. She played on a co-ed team with her older brother, and her team got to play in the championship game in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, which she thought was so cool.
With an opportunity to play inside Assembly Hall as part of the IU women’s basketball team, Withrow knew she needed to get serious. She worked out for two weeks before the tryout and would get shots up at her boss’s house, which had a half-court in it.
The tryout consisted of six or seven other girls in addition to “the black squad,” which is the women’s team’s male practice squad. No members from the Hoosiers’ actual roster were present at the tryout.
Withrow waited around to hear if she had made the team and on the Sunday before the first official practice, she got the call that she would officially be a member of the roster.
“I didn’t know anybody’s name or anything and I just kind of showed up at practice in The Hall,” Withrow said. “It was just like we hit the ground running and that was it. It was a lot to take in at first, but it was a good challenge and it was a lot of fun.”
From last season's shaky start to the seven-game conference win streak to the WNIT Championship, Withrow was there every step of the way and enjoyed every moment of it.
Although she only played six minutes all season and attempted just one field goal, her teammates never treated her any differently than the ones that played 38 minutes and scored over 10 points per game.
“I remember coming in and being terrified because they didn’t have to respect me, they didn’t have to be nice to me, they didn’t owe me anything,” Withrow said. “But ever since literally I got here, they have treated me just like everybody else.”
After the season ended, she was asked if she wanted to return for her senior year. Withrow didn’t have to think twice about it, but what happened next, she never saw coming.
After summer workouts before this season began, the coaching staff surprised the walk-on Withrow with a scholarship.
“It’s just an added on benefit to the already amazing opportunity of being on the team,” Withrow said. “I think the gesture of giving me a scholarship meant a lot more than the scholarship itself. I mean, money is money, but the fact that they thought of me and saw me as deserving means a lot.”
Withrow’s constant celebrations from the bench any time one of her teammates would score were finally reciprocated to her Nov. 18, 2018.
With 25 seconds left and IU up 23 over University of North Florida, freshman guard Grace Berger inbounded from the baseline, and Withrow came around a screen set by sophomore forward Linsey Marchese.
The screen freed her up as Berger threw her the ball near the right corner, a few feet inside the 3-point arc, Withrow caught the ball and pulled up. As her shot trajected toward the hoop, the whole IU bench rose to its feet, followed by the netting of the nylon and the eruption from her teammates and the crowd.
Withrow trotted back on defense with a big smile on her face. She had just scored her first collegiate points.
“We wanted that more for her than anything,” junior guard Ali Patberg said after the game.
The shot came two days before Withrow’s birthday as well, so the team was even more excited about that. Patberg and company often refer to her as one of the most selfless people they know.
It’s not the only points Withrow has scored this season either. More recently, on Feb. 26, against Northwestern, IU was down 23, and Withrow came into the game with 1:04 left. In her few minutes played, she ran the floor hard and hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
It was one of IU’s worst outings of the season, but Patberg said Withrow’s effort is what the rest of the team should have been doing.
“The way she played was how we’re supposed to play,” Patberg said. “I think that represents who she is. We get the opportunity to play all the time and we have to make the most of it just like she did.”
It’s the embodiment of what Withrow is all about. Whether the team is winning or losing, she is always keeping a positive energy. She knew her team was better than what it showed that night.
“Our loss against Northwestern was not the best but that isn’t who we are,” Withrow said. “We are a really good basketball team.”
That really good team Withrow referred to showed up Sunday as IU trounced Purdue 73-51. Although the game moved the Hoosiers into the 10 seed for the Big Ten Tournament and kept their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Patberg and sophomore guard Bendu Yeaney said it was more about celebrating their seniors — Withrow and Kym Royster.
Chants of “We want Withrow” broke out late in the fourth quarter, and with 1:50 to go, IU up 26, the fans got their wish.
In what could potentially be her final minutes on the floor as a Hoosier, Withrow cut into the middle of the zone, caught a pass and got fouled. She stepped to the line and missed the first free throw and the crowd became anxious. Withrow made the second one as the crowd exploded and her teammates held up the number one signifying her one point on the day, her Senior Day.
With 25 seconds left, IU Coach Teri Moren called a timeout so she could sub Withrow out and let the Assembly Hall crowd give her one more standing ovation.
“You’re always hoping when you go into a game like this that you have an opportunity to take your seniors out and allow the crowd to give them those ovations,” Moren said. “It’s a great moment.”
After the game, fans and players stayed on the court to watch two video packages that honored Withrow and Royster.
In Withrow’s, she thanked her friends, family, teammates and coaches for the opportunity and support. In the video’s conclusion, Withrow set an Adidas IU basketball down at midcourt of Assembly Hall, took her left hand and hit it against the crimson “5” and “Indiana” emblazoned across the chest of her white IU jersey and said the following:
“Indiana has taught me to take a step back, see the bigger picture and do everything out of love because at the end of the day, nothing worth living for is ever just about you.”