Jennifer Pruett grew up tough playing basketball with her older brothers, even joining an all-boys team at the age of 5. The St. Johns native has brought that DNA-deep toughness to the sidelines during her first year as head coach of SVSU’s women’s basketball team.
REFLECTIONS sat down with Pruett for a Q&A session that examines her basketball roots.
Tell us about how your hometown continues to define you as a person.
“St. Johns is a tight-knit community. All the neighborhood kids were always playing together. Across the street from our house, there was this big field and we played baseball and football football games there, and play basketball in our driveways.”
You were a three-year starter at point guard during your collegiate career at Ohio University. How did that experience shaped you as a coach?
“As a point guard, I have always been a natural-born leader. I took the ‘extension of the head coach on the floor’ role to heart. I always had really good relationships with my coaches and I’ve understood what they want and I’ve tried to implement that on the floor.
I’ve always wanted to be a coach. I figured it would be at the high school level and then kind of realized — through my time at Ohio University — that I want to get into coaching college. I got my master’s degree in coaching education my last year of playing there, so I got to see both sides of being a coach while playing.”
One of your mentors, Sue Guevara, played and served as an assistant basketball coach here before spending 12 years coaching at Central Michigan University. Have you talked to her since taking this job?
“Yes. She always loved my bulldog mentality. She told me to keep that tough and hard-nosed attitude. She has been a great mentor to me throughout my career. She helped me get my first collegiate coaching job. She means a lot to me — her guidance and her advice. Whenever I talk to her, she always brings up something I need to think about. She forces me to think outside the box a little bit.”
What are your expectations for the program going forward?
“I want to compete at a national level and I know we can get there. We are in the GLIAC, and this conference is awesome. Ashland has won the national title several years. There were three teams in the national tournament from the GLIAC last year. And we are going to get there. That is my expectation.”
The program earned its second-ever NCAA Division II postseason tournament berth in 2016. Does that season still resonate with this program?
“The 2016 season happened when the seniors now were freshmen. It’s one thing — for the players on this team who haven’t been at that level — to want to be there. But it’s another thing when you have players on your team who have been there, know what it takes to get there, and can help their teammates understand what it takes.”
What do you want your players to remember about their experience here?
“I want moms and dads and families to trust me to take care of their daughters. They go away to college for four years and I am entrusted with helping them grow as young women. And not just when it comes to basketball. It’s about who they are as a person once they leave, and what’s their career going to look like. I am really big on our academic side. The memories on the basketball court are all just memories you are going to take with you, but your career — what you do in the classroom — is with you for a lifetime.”
What is life like away from coaching?
“I’m a mom and a wife. I have a son, Jake, who is four. He has the most energy. I can never keep up with him. And I have a daughter, Brynn, who just turned one in April. They love to be outside and love to play sports and love to ride bikes. It’s fun to keep up with them. My husband and I enjoy golfing whenever we can sneak away. We have a cabin up north. We love to go out by the lake and just be outdoors people.”
What about playing basketball? Do you still find time to play?
“Oh, yeah. My husband I have pretty good 1-on-1 games. In my assistant coaching days, I’d be on the floor with the team during practice, but now as head coach, I’m going to be more of an observer.”