NU hoops back on the map thanks to Jaeschke

If asked to list a few female pioneers, many of us might go with people such as Amelia Earhart, Florence Nightingale or Susan B. Anthony.

Amy Jaeschke probably wouldn't come to mind.

But the Northwestern basketball star sees herself as a bit of a pioneer nonetheless.

“I've always wanted to be a trailblazer for this program to help bring it to the top,” Jaeschke said. “I think that's happened a little bit.

“I came to Northwestern because I wanted to make this place a destination for a lot of great players.”

Slowly — but surely — Jaeschke's vision is becoming a reality.

Good players have followed her as she has tried to revive a once-proud Northwestern program that was routinely finishing last in the Big Ten just before she arrived.

In fact, some very, very good players are now following in Jaeschke's footsteps and Northwestern, which just missed the NCAA Tournament and will host Alabama at 2 p.m. on Sunday in the second round of the WNIT at Welsh-Ryan Arena, is benefiting.

A prep star at New Trier High School four years ago, Jaeschke was the first McDonald's All-American to play for Northwestern.

This fall, Jaeschke helped the Wildcats ink their second McDonald's All-American in Morgan Jones, a 6-foot-2 forward out of Florida who is part of the 13th best recruiting class in the country.

Now that Northwestern is a destination for top recruits again, Jaeschke is ready to blaze another trail. It would go from Evanston straight to the WNBA.

The 6-foot-4 senior center, who ranked second in the Big Ten this season in scoring (21.4 ppg), fourth in rebounding (9.1 rpg) and first in blocks (3.1 bpg), is firmly on the league's radar.

Jaeschke's coach, Joe McKeown, has fielded calls about her from every coach and general manager in the WNBA.

If Jaeschke is drafted and catches on with a WNBA team, she will be the first Northwestern player to play in the league in its 15-year history.

“If I go to the WNBA, maybe other players will start thinking they can (get there) from Northwestern, too,” Jaeschke said. “I want to get that going.”

Jaeschke will leave Northwestern as the program's second all-time leading scorer and rebounder. She also ranks in the top 25 in the nation in career blocks.

A first-team all-Big Ten selection, Jaeschke was so impressive this season that she wound up being a candidate for the prestigious Wooden Award for the best player in college basketball.

At midseason, Jaeschke wasn't even on the award's watch list.

“I really think that Amy is now viewed as one of the best post players in the country,” McKeown said. “She's held her own against some of the other great post players in this country, like (Ohio State's) Jantel Lavender. She had 29 points against Ohio State earlier this year.

“When I talk to the pro coaches, they are impressed with Amy's versatility. She's a big player who can score in the low post, but also is a great shooter from outside. She's a great passer out of double teams and she can also defend really well, especially with her shot-blocking ability.

“I really think she could be a first-rounder.”

It almost pains McKeown to say that. Because if Jaeschke is playing in the WNBA, that means she won't be playing for the Wildcats anymore.

“I tell Amy all the time, ‘Don't graduate,'” McKeown said with a laugh. “If there was a way I could bring her back under another name, I would.”

Jaeschke could play a few more games for Northwestern without going incognito.

The Wildcats are hoping to surpass their showing in last year's WNIT post-season tournament, which ended in the Sweet 16.

“I really want to see this program succeed,” Jaeschke said. “It's definitely disappointing not to make it to the NCAA Tournament. But if getting a lot of wins in the WNIT is going to help Northwestern get to that point next year, then that's what we need to do.”

Consider it another trail for Jaeschke to blaze.