From free kicks to free throws
Rickan makes transition from soccer to basketball
Published: Sunday, November 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, November 3, 2013 21:11
Women’s basketball senior guard Jenna Rickan makes sure to control her feet when a basketball bounces toward her at practice. She does this not to put herself in good position to catch the pass, but to fight the urge to kick the ball.
That’s because she spent the past four years playing Division I women’s soccer at Syracuse University.
Rickan, a psychology graduate student at UB, is making the transition back to basketball after playing four seasons of soccer. After graduating and gaining a fifth year of eligibility through an NCAA law, which allows athletes who attend graduate school an extra year to play a different sport at a different school, Rickan has an opportunity few student-athletes have had: to play two Division I sports in their college careers.
Rickan is a Buffalo native who starred in every sport she played at Kenmore West High School. She was a first-team All-Western New York selection in soccer, basketball and softball and is the all-time career scoring leader for the Kenmore West girls basketball team.
“Jenna is probably one of those kids that comes along once in 28 years,” said Kenmore West girls basketball coach Mike Licata. “I saw Jenna do things on the basketball court that would make you shake your head. Nobody coaches that type of thing. It’s just natural ability.”
But Rickan thought of soccer as her first sport. She had grown up in a soccer family and her father, Jeff, was a soccer player and coach. Licata begged her to play college basketball, but Rickan decided to play soccer at Syracuse.
Rickan was instrumental in improving the Syracuse women’s soccer team. In her four years, the team improved its win total every season. She recorded six goals and nine assists in her career and served as team captain her junior and senior years.
“I came in my freshman year and we weren’t that good,” Rickan said. “We were able to turn around the program in my time there. I graduated with nine seniors, so our class was really close and wanted to change the program and to know that Syracuse soccer was up amongst the top of Big East.”
After her final season of soccer ended, Rickan began playing on an intramural basketball team with some of her soccer teammates.
Her teammates soon realized she had the talent to play in more than just an intramural league.
“In the first game we played, I think everyone kind of had their jaw dropped,” said Skylar Sabbag, who played soccer with Rickan at Syracuse. “As each game went on, we realized more and more how lethal she was on the court. It was amazing that she could be as good at soccer as she was at basketball.”
Teammates like Sabbag encouraged Rickan to try and play college basketball in her last year of NCAA eligibility. Rickan would have to play at a school other than Syracuse. She was already planning on attending graduate school closer to home.
All the pieces came together for her to come to UB.
Rickan sent an email explaining her interest to the coaches at UB. And just two days after her graduation from Syracuse, Rickan was back in Buffalo trying out for the women’s basketball team in front of the Bulls’ coaching staff.
“Obviously it’s nerve-racking,” Rickan said. “I hadn’t played in forever. I came home and there were the five coaches and just me, and they put me through a workout [doing shooting and ball handling]. I kind of just went at it like, if God wanted to be here, I’ll be here.”
Women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack and her staff saw that Rickan’s skills had not diminished since high school.
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” Legette-Jack said. “You ride the bike but you stop for four years. You don’t lose all your skillset because you stopped riding that bicycle. She really still has that fire burner in her belly, so it was easy for that transition to take place.”
Rickan’s outside shooting and passing abilities impressed Legette-Jack, but it was Rickan’s speed that made her stand out. Legette-Jack calls Rickan “the fastest thing on two legs.” She believes soccer helped Rickan improve her speed.
Rickan also thinks the skills she learned playing soccer will help her basketball game.
Rickan played center forward for the Orange, and she thinks her responsibilities at the position – like communicating with and controlling the position of her teammates – will help her at guard for the Bulls.
Rickan also excelled in the classroom at Syracuse. She was a member of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and Big East All-Academic team. As a psych grad student, she has faced new academic challenges, like balancing research projects and a heavier workload with practices.
Rickan admits it’s been a bit of an adjustment transitioning back to basketball. Her arms and shoulders hurt after the first few practices because she isn’t used to using them.
“Working hard is the only thing I’m worried about,” Rickan said. “I can miss a shot or do something wrong, but if you hustle back, that’s the most important thing. I’ve learned that at Syracuse and here that it doesn’t matter, everyone’s going to make mistakes, but it’s how you react after.”
Rickan is happy to be back home in Buffalo with the support of her family. She enjoys coming home to her parents, Jeff and Michelle, and her two sisters after practice. She said it’s been great to get back to doing even the simplest activities with her family, like cooking and watching football.