Babcock McGraw: DePaul's January, Creighton's McGrory eyeing similar futures
They were rivals in high school and college.
Now Jessica January and MC McGrory, who grew up playing at neighboring high schools in the Minneapolis suburbs, are huge empathizers of each other. They know each other's pain.
January, a senior guard for the DePaul and the Big East preseason player of the year, is staring at a potentially heartbreaking future, one that is already McGrory's reality.
Last week, January broke the index finger on her right hand, her shooting hand, while taking a charge against Georgetown. She had surgery on Tuesday and could miss the rest of the season. If she is unable to come back, her career at DePaul will be over.
Also last week, McGrory, a senior guard for Creighton, announced that her college basketball career is over. She suffered a concussion against Nebraska on Dec. 18, also while taking a charge. It was the sixth or seventh concussion of McGrory's life. She made the decision that one more could be one too many. So she is done.
On Wednesday, Creighton lost to No. 23 DePaul (12-4) in a Big East tilt at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Lincoln Park. Both teams seemed incomplete without their statistical and emotional leaders.
"I have so much respect for her," January said of McGrory. "I guarded her a lot in high school. It was all a lot of fun.
"I was just shocked to hear that her career is over. That sucks so bad. And I know how hard it is."
McGrory was averaging about 7 points and 4 rebounds per game. January, who had never missed a game for DePaul before her broken finger, was a consistent stat-stuffer, leading DePaul in scoring (15.3 ppg), assists (6.6 apg) and steals (2.3 spg).
"I was really excited for this year and I feel like I started off really well. It was such an honor to be picked Big East preseason player of the year and I thought we were playing really well as a team against some great competition," January said. "It's tough, but that's what comes with sports, I guess."
Comebacks also are a part of sports, and that has become January's focus. She realizes how lucky she is compared to McGrory, who is done. There is that hope that January could return for a sliver of the season, particularly if DePaul can make a run in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.
"When (the injury) first happened, all I could think about was that it could be career-ending," January said. "But I know I can't stay in that frame of mind. What I have to think about is that I might still get to play. And I'll get to play again (after DePaul) too, professionally.
"If anything, this whole thing gives me more reason to keep playing (professionally). No one wants to end their career like this if they don't have to. I'll definitely play again."
The Blue Demons hope it's sooner rather than later.
Even Geno Auriemma can't derail his own team.
Auriemma, head coach of the Connecticut women's basketball team, thought he had designed a schedule for this season that would be a little too much for his players, and finally end talk of "the streak."
But alas, not even the likes of Notre Dame, Baylor, Florida State, Maryland, Ohio State and Texas, all top 15 teams, can stop the wins from piling up.
On Wednesday, Connecticut crushed East Carolina 90-45 for the program's 89th straight victory, which is one victory shy of the NCAA record for consecutive wins, also set by Connecticut from 2008 to 2010.
"I'm probably the most surprised person in the country," Auriemma said. "I set the schedule up so this wouldn't happen. I'm flabbergasted."
• Patricia Babcock McGraw also works as a basketball color analyst for games involving DePaul University, the Big Ten, the Big East, Northern Illinois University, Chicago Sky and the Illinois High School Association. Follow her on Twitter @BabcockMcGraw.