In 1997, the nation witnessed multiple milestones for women’s basketball. That was the year the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) began its first season. That was the year that teams like the Los Angeles Spark, Houston Comets and New York Liberty played in the first nationally televised women’s games. That was the year Freshman, and future Houston Comets player, Jenni Dant ’01 made the Stevenson High School varsity girls’ basketball team.
“I remember having these WNBA blue mesh shorts that I bought, and I thought they were the coolest thing because for so long, I wore nothing but Michael Jordans’ and Kobe Bryant shoes,” Dant said. “To have players like Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie come onto the scene, I just thought ‘wow, I finally have someone that looks like me playing professionally.’”
During her four year’s at Stevenson, Dant scored 1,577 points, leading her team to a 109-28 combined record. She made 916 rebounds, 529 assists and 406 steals for the Patriots before being named an All-American and going on to play collegiate basketball at DePaul University.
“With Jenni, there was no nonsense when it came to practice, and she led her teammates by example which really helped me out,” said Frank Mattucci, former varsity girls’ basketball coach. “She was usually the best player on the court because her work ethic was second to none.”
Throughout their years working with each other, Mattucci said that he and Dant developed a mutual respect and trust for each other. According to Mattucci, their coach-athlete relationship was centered around honesty and bluntness, and Dant eventually proved herself as a leader both on and off the court.
Dant explained that Mattucci played a huge role in her development as a player and her passion for the sport. She believes that they have maintained a close relationship.
“There could have been animosity or jealousy, but coach Mattucci did a good job in letting everyone know that our common goal was to win,” Dant said. “He liked to pull the best characteristics out of me, and it’s a sign of a great coach when they can motivate you to play smarter and harder than you would do on your own.”
Unlike most high school students who were spending time with friends and family around the holidays, Dant recalls sacrificing most of her time to practice for Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments.
Dant was rewarded for her hard work and dedication to basketball when she was drafted by the Houston Comets in 2005. Although this was a big accomplishment, she said that her main focus and motivation through high school and college was to improve as an athlete rather than play in the WNBA.
“I was not surprised that Jenni played professionally,” Mattucci said. “Jenni could play with the best because she could always defend, and when you can defend, there’s always a role for you. She had the mental toughness, the physical skills and the intestinal fortitude which she needed to handle adversity.”
Following her professional basketball career, Dant went on to graduate school at Wright State University and received a Master’s Degree in public administration last December. She is currently the director of operations for the Wright State women’s basketball program.
“The game is changing constantly, but the people that are involved are not changing, meaning they love to do what they do,” Dant said. “They love to coach, and they love these kids. [The other Wright State coaches and I] have been there and done that, and now, we’re just trying to give back.”
Dant hopes to use her degree in public administration to, one day, give back to the Chicago communities. She said that she would like to start a nonprofit for disadvantaged youth to provide support for them on the court and in life.
While Dant has dedicated a lot of work to her own success, she has not forgotten the sacrifices her family and Stevenson families, in general, have made to get their kids where they are. Both Dant and Mattucci agree that though it’s important to dream big, it’s even more important that one is willing to make these sacrifices to accomplish their dreams.
“You’re probably not always going to be the most popular or always get to go to parties or be around your friends all the time,” Dant said. “At the end of the day, it’s a sacrifice that you’re going to have to make if you can see the bigger picture of accomplishing your goals. Being the best that you can be will take sacrifice.”