Jan. 16, 2002
by Chris Masters
Playing basketball at Notre Dame involves achieving a delicate balance between athletic and academic excellence.
In many instances, this requires hours of careful study on the court and in the classroom. For others, this balance comes naturally, as is the case with Jeneka Joyce.
In fact, spend five minutes with the Irish sophomore guard and you may find yourself moving from a conversation on the teachings of Lao-Tzu right into a discussion on the finer points of the pick and roll.
The ability to strike such a harmony between athletics and academics has made Joyce a valuable commodity on the Notre Dame roster during her brief career. As a freshman, she appeared in 25 games, averaging 5.2 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. She also connected at a solid 38 percent clip (30-of-79) from three-point range, one of three Irish players to hit at least 30 treys during Notre Dame’s run to the 2001 NCAA championship.
Joyce’s value has been even more apparent this season. She began the year as the top reserve for the Irish, but after six games, she moved into the starting lineup for the first time in her career and has provided important leadership on the floor. She is averaging 4.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game and has made 13 three-point field goals, one of four players to hit at least 10 treys this season.
“You have to have a certain aggressive mentality on the floor, which is something totally different from the kind of person I am,” Joyce said. “I tend to be more introspective and quiet when I’m not playing basketball. So when I’m out there playing, I have to undergo a transformation and speak up more in order to be successful.”
Off the floor, Joyce has proven to be a scholar among scholars, posting a 3.412 cumulative grade-point average as a psychology major. She also is a member of Notre Dame’s prestigious Academic Honors for Student-Athletes Program, which matches an elite group of student-athletes with a faculty mentor to assist them in their chosen field of study. Additionally, she earned Dean’s List recognition following the fall 2000 semester and was named to the 2000-01 BIG EAST Conference Academic All-Star Team.
Joyce has made great strides in her personal development during her tenure with the Irish, a growth she attributed to the exceptional learning environment at Notre Dame.
“College is so interesting because it gives you the opportunity to expand yourself intellectually,” Joyce said. “That’s especially true at Notre Dame, with all of its resources and options. I just want to take advantage of that while I have the time on this wonderful campus.”
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw notes that Joyce’s maturity and wisdom have played a significant part in her increased role this season.
“Her strength lies in her poise and intelligence,” McGraw said. “Our whole team is more stable when she is on the floor. She knows where others need to be at all times. We’re grooming her to fill the role of a leader on this team and she has taken on that responsibility this season. Now that she has found her niche on this team, she has really started to play a lot better and shoot the ball better.”
The marriage of athletic and academic excellence began for Joyce during her days at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kan. A four-year starter for the Blues, Joyce earned Kansas Miss Basketball and Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a senior, averaging 21.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists during her final prep campaign. She also was a two-time Street & Smith’s All-America honoree and was named to the 2000 Adidas and Nike All-America squads. She helped guide WRHS to three consecutive appearances in the state semifinals, including a state championship in 1999.
Besides her on-court achievements, Joyce was a star in the classroom as well. She was a member of the National Honor Society and also garnered recognition as a Kansas Honor Scholar. In fact, she is just as proud of her accomplishments in the academic arena as anything she has done in the basketball arena.
“With the amount of time I spend on basketball, it’s hard to focus all of your energy on academics,” Joyce said. “My goals are just to remain above a 3.0 GPA and learn all I can, both in the classroom and on the basketball court. Every time I do something well, it’s because of hard work and it reminds me of what can be accomplished if I set my mind to it.”
“Jeneka is an all-around great student-athlete and a role model for young people everywhere,” McGraw said. “She works hard both on the court and in the classroom to make herself the best person she can be.”