Chanise Jenkins speaks her own language, and only those in her family know it.
"My parents and my grandparents and my (two) sisters created our own language to communicate with my oldest sister," said Jenkins, DePaul's sophomore point guard from Whitney Young High School.
Jenkins' sister Chavonne, a 25-year-old teacher's aide, has been deaf since birth.
"We use sign language, but there are also other things, special things, we do to communicate with her," said Jenkins, who is now a communications junkie.
Jenkins, a two-time dean's list honoree at DePaul, is majoring in communications, with a minor in American Sign Language. Eventually, she would like to become an advocate for and work with the deaf community.
Meanwhile, communicating on the basketball court has become a priority, which is key for a point guard.
"There is a parallel there, with all the different communicating I do," said Jenkins, who will lead the top-seeded and No. 25 Blue Demons (23-6) into quarterfinal action of the Big East Conference Tournament Sunday (6 p.m.) at Allstate Arena.
"Because of my sister, I've had to be a good communicator," Jenkins said. "I've spent countless hours trying to understand my sister and trying to help her communicate with us and with others.
"That has helped me communicate better on the basketball court. I'm OK talking to my teammates, helping them out with what to do. And sometimes, if I have to yell, I'll yell."
Of course, there hasn't been much need for the Blue Demons to raise their voices this season -- except to loudly cheer for their victories. There have been plenty of those.
With the old Big East breaking apart last July and powerhouse teams such as Notre Dame and Connecticut departing for other conferences, DePaul claimed its first Big East title since joining in 2005-06. The high-powered Blue Demons lead the new Big East, and rank among the top teams nationally, in many key statistical categories, including scoring (84 ppg) and assists (20.1 apg).
Jenkins ranks fourth in the Big East in assists (5.3 apg) and second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.9). She also averages 10.8 points and 1.6 steals per game, both of which rank among Big East leaders.
"I think I've played pretty well this season and I've improved from last year with my turnovers and leadership, and I've been able to find my teammates more for open shots," Jenkins said. "I've become even more vocal."
Jenkins first became vocal in basketball when she and her sister Chavonne would "talk" trash to each other.
Chavonne played basketball at Whitney Young, too.
"When we were younger, we were always really competitive and we'd get into it about basketball," Jenkins said with a laugh. "We'd play on the hoop in the backyard and I always wanted to be better than Chavonne. But I always looked up to her, too. She never let the fact that she is deaf stop her. That had a huge impact on me and my family."
The Big East Conference women's basketball tournament is being staged in the Chicago area this weekend for the first time in league history.
"Women's basketball is a great product to watch, and we've been working for 40 years to show that," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno, named the Big East coach of the year this week. "We're hoping that Chicago will come out and support women playing sports. We've got some really good teams in the Big East, at least five NCAA tournament-caliber teams. It's going to be great women's basketball."
Action starts today, with first-round games at DePaul's McGrath-Phillips Arena in Lincoln Park. Tenth-seeded Providence takes on No. 7 Seton Hall at 4 p.m. with No. 9 Xavier versus No. 8 Georgetown to follow at approximately 6:30 p.m.
The tournament will move to Allstate Arena in Rosemont for its final three days. Quarterfinal action on Sunday will involve the remaining six teams and winners from Saturday spread over four games. The first two-game session begins at noon, and the second two-game session begins at 6 p.m.
DePaul, which won the regular-season title, will play in Sunday's 6 p.m. quarterfinal game against the winner of Georgetown-Xavier.
The semifinals are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday at Allstate Arena while the championship game will tip at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The semifinals and the final will be aired live on Fox Sports 1.
Big East awards:
Head coach Doug Bruno wasn't the only one from DePaul to earn Big East postseason recognition.
Point guard Brittany Hrynko and forward Jasmine Penny were unanimous first-team all-Big East selections while former Hersey star Megan Rogowski was named honorable mention. Guard Jessica January was a unanimous selection to the Big East all-freshman team.
• Patricia Babcock McGraw also is a color commentator for DePaul broadcasts. Follow her on Twitter@babcockmcgraw.