When the NCAA ruled last season wouldn’t count against any player’s eligibility, Giacone made a quick decision:
“I knew there was a lot of unfinished business for me. I wanted more out of my college career.”
And so she returned for a sixth season at UD, something no other woman in the program’s history has done.
She came to UD when she was just 17 and is the last remaining recruit of former coach Jim Jabir.
Although she’s 23 now, Giacone is not the oldest player on this season’s team. There are two other sixth-year players – Araion Bradshaw and Erin Whalen – but they both started their college careers at other schools.
Bradshaw, who’ll be 25 in two weeks, was a freshman on the South Carolina team that won the 2017 national championship. She then sat out a year at UD – she practiced but could not play in games – to meet NCAA transfer rules and, like Giacone, has taken advantage of the extra season caused by COVID.
Whalen, who first played two seasons at Vanderbilt, is 24.
The three are the foundation of the 5-2 Flyers team that overwhelmed Florida A&M, 64-44, Tuesday night at UD Arena.
Playing limited minutes against the winless Rattlers – on a night when all 14 of the Flyers players got into the game – Giacone led all scorers with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Whalen had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Bradshaw added six points, three assists and a steal.
Coach Shauna Green calls them “our super seniors,” but a smiling Giacone offered a clarification: “Actually, she called us super seniors last year, so I guess that would make us super, super seniors.”
She said each of them made the decision to come back this year on their own: “We didn’t want to influence each other. We wanted everybody to do what was best for them.
“For me, with the way last season ended, there was no debate. I think I was the first one of us to call Coach Green and say, ‘I’m coming back.”
“I love being here and being part of this program and the community. I don’t know if you’d find what this place has to offer at another school. To me, it’s unmatched.”
Injury a blessing in disguise
Giacone came to Dayton out of Bethlehem Central High in Delmar, a suburb of Albany, as the No 42 recruit in the nation, according to the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 rankings.
“To be truthful, I came in here thinking I was the highest of highs and that this was going to be easy,” she said. “I was young and reckless. We were just joking the other day about all the stupid things I did freshman year, on and off the basketball court.
“UD gave me the resources and mentors to help me mature and learn about my future and become a better overall person.”
She singled out the seniors on that team – Sasha Grant-Allen, Andrijana Cvitkovic, Christy Macioce, Kelley Austria: “They did a good job bringing me under their wing. They taught me the culture and the how Dayton basketball is played.”
And she now says the injury that sidelined her a season and a half was a blessing in disguise: “Being able to see basketball from the sidelines really helped me. I learned so much. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if that hadn’t happened.”
In her four seasons since then, her numbers – minutes on the court, scoring, rebounding – have all gone up. Last season she was named the A-10′s Most Improved Player.
In the season opener this year, she registered her first career double double – 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds – against Alabama A&M.
Eight days later, she made 10 of 18 shots, including four three pointers, for a career-high 28 points in a win over Toledo. She’s averaging 14.4 points a game, third best behind Whalen and sophomore Makira Cook, who are averaging 15.1.
She’s been a Dean’s List student and already has earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business. She’s now working on a second masters. After UD she wants to pursue pro career overseas and then enter the business world or become a college coach.
But right now she’s focused on the season at hand.
“I’m grateful for it and I’m excited,” she said. “It’s great to have fans back in the Arena and to be playing a full non-conference schedule against some of the best of the best.”
The Flyers already have beaten Purdue and Illinois on the road – their two losses were to Duke and Mississippi State – and after Sunday’s game at Illinois State, they play at Florida next Wednesday and then head to the West Palm Beach Invitational just before Christmas.
Games like these will help prepare them for the A-10 season and what Giacone hopes will lead to her third NCAA Tournament as a Flyer.
‘They know the standard here’
No one was happier than Green to have the trio return:
“It’s huge. They’ve brought all this experience back. They know what I expect. They know the standard here.”
Tuesday night was Giacone’s 100th game as a Flyer.
Bradshaw has played in 114 college games, 90 at UD – including 89 starts – and 24 at South Carolina, including in the NCAA championship victory over Mississippi State. Whalen has played in 119 college games, 60 at Vanderbilt and now 59 at UD, with 49 starts.
They are sharing their experience with the younger players Green said: “They have done a great job in terms of leadership. They take great pride in knowing they’re re leaving a legacy and teaching the Dayton way to our younger kids.”
Green said she wants the three to get something return: “They have such lofty goals they want to accomplish. But I don’t want them to press and feel so much pressure, thinking they have to make every basket.
“I want them to go out on top, but I also want them to play free and have fun doing it.”
You saw an example of that late in Tuesday’s game when Giacone stole a FAMU pass and raced the length of the court – with a Rattler player on her heels – to score the layup. That brought the Flyers bench to its feet, cheering in delight.
And the crowd – which included her parents who make most home games, either by a 10-hour drive or two flights – roared, too, as she ran back down the court all smiles.
Later she talked about moments like that:
“To have fans in the Arena again and be surrounded by your teammates and the adrenaline flowing, those are just some of the thrills you get.
“I just love the game of basketball.”
And for all the folks back in New York, that’s why Jenna Giacone is still in Ohio.