McCool's squad wows observers in Game Time opener

BY WILL MCDAVID | JUNE 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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With the league’s first week of Game Time basketball in the books, Pat McCool’s team is riding high on the momentum of a last-minute victory over Joe Johnston’s squad.

In the aftermath of the group’s first step toward a Game Time title, one thing is abundantly clear — Whitney Jennings is for real. In an opening performance that saw her drill the game’s deciding shot, Jennings showcased the open-court speed and ball handling that made her Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year, but perhaps more importantly, the 5-5 guard displayed a facility for the game’s less flashy aspects, in this case, sound decision-making.

“I don’t see things as whether she makes shots or misses shots,” McCool said after the win on June 18. “She wasn’t turning it over, she was doing her best to run the point with a team on which she doesn’t know the players.”

McCool now ranks among those who recognize Jennings’ talent. He isn’t alone. Though Game Time League Director Randy Larson wasn’t at the game, news of the Logansport High School standout’s heroics traveled quickly to the adjacent gym where his team was playing. 

While her late-game play stunned the crowd, Larson was impressed but unsurprised by Jennings’ clutch shot. Larson is all too familiar with incoming freshman’s game, particularly the quickness that she uses to create opportunities.

“I think she can be one of our two or three best players this year,” Larson said. “She can go by anybody. She’s a girl who can blow by her defender every time.”

Though McCool’s squad prevailed by the narrowest of margins, the game’s close outcome spoke less to the team’s weaknesses than it did to the play of its talented opponent, which was made obvious by the 30-point performance of Johnston’s centerpiece, Iowa’s Bethany Doolittle.

“As you can see, Bethany is the key to every thing we do,” Johnston said. “I think she’s a terrific player. If I’d have had the first pick, she still would have been my first draft pick.”

In spite of Doolittle’s dominance down low, McCool’s group showed incredible promise, the dynamic Jennings, versatile forward Kali Peschel, and Upper Iowa’s sweet-shooting Lauren Buck making up what could be Game Time’s most fearsome offensive trio.

Though Jennings often acted as the focal point of the offense, Peschel had a profound effect on the other side of the ball. The 6-foot forward was a one-woman wrecking crew on defense, using her height and athleticism to intercept passes, snag rebounds, and disrupt her opponent’s offensive plan.

This was not lost on Larson, who well knows how devastating her physical tools can be.

“You have to be impressed by Peschel’s 17 rebounds,” Larson said. “What makes her special is her athleticism.”

Driven by these potent weapons, McCool’s squad displayed a high skill-level and natural chemistry that belied the brief time the players have spent together.

“It’s a process,” McCool said. “They haven’t played together. If we’re better after Week 2 than we were at Week 1, and Week 3 after 2, etc., then we’re doing well. I can’t ask anything other than that.”

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