Shewan staying in the moment with Illini

Shewan staying in the moment with Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Sarah Shewan sprung from the court at the Robins Center in Richmond, Va., going in for a layup.

It's a move she had performed countless times in her basketball career.

This time, though, on Dec. 1, 2017 while playing for Quinnipiac, something didn't feel right in her left knee immediately after the ball dropped through the net to give the Bobcats a late lead in what would become an eventual 81-65 win against Richmond on Dec. 1, 2017.

Shewan checked out of the game with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter and never returned.

As fate would have it, Shewan's performance nearly 13 months ago accounted for the final 22 points of the 781 she scored in her four-year career at Quinnipiac, a 10,000-student private school in Hamden, Conn.

That's because Shewan underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in her left knee on Dec. 13, 2017.

Later that month, Shewan got in her car and drove 410 miles to return home to Canada for winter break. Shewan prescribed a three-week break to mull her future.

"I took that time to really find myself and find what I wanted to do," Shewan said. "Then, I realized I missed basketball. I missed being part of a team. ... I knew that I would miss out on such a big opportunity if I didn't play again. I didn't want to feel that way. I never want to miss out on something I could have done and that's why I am here."

So, where is here?

In Shewan's case, it's Champaign-Urbana.

Shewan — with accounting and finance degrees from Quinnipiac in hand — had a year left of eligibility, thanks to a medical redshirt, and put her accountancy career on hold to pursue her other passion: basketball.

A connection from the past opened a door to the Illinois women's basketball team.

While Toledo showed some interest in adding Shewan, the Illini had the advantage of having Jaelyne Kirkpatrick on their roster.

Kirkpatrick, an Oakville, Ontario, Canada native, and Shewan both played on the AAU circuit in Canada, so Kirkpatrick reached out to her longtime friend to gauge her interest in transferring to Illinois.

Shewan visited the Champaign-Urbana campus — her only official visit — and "loved it," especially the college-town feel, a stark contrast from her time in Connecticut.

By all accounts, it's been a good fit all around.

"Her impact is not only on the basketball court but in the locker room," Illinois coach Nancy Fahey said, adding that Shewan's experience on a Quinnipiac team that advanced to the Sweet 16 during Shewan's junior season in 2016-17 has proved beneficial. "You can tell she's a veteran. You can tell she's been out there. You can tell she's been in tight places. She doesn't shy away from that. It's nice to have somebody that's been there and done that."

Shewan, a 6-foot-2 graduate transfer forward pursuing a master's degree in accountancy, is averaging 6.7 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Illini, who tip off their Big Ten season at 7 p.m. today when Illinois (8-3) hosts Indiana (11-1) at State Farm Center.

Fresh off a 67-45 defeat to rival Missouri on Dec. 21 in which Illinois was outscored 40-19 in the second half, including 24-5 in the third quarter, the Illini could use some positive energy.

Insert Shewan.

"She's such a great light on our team," said Kirkpatrick, who received a pick-me-up from Shewan earlier this season after an ankle injury forced the 5-7 senior guard to miss seven games. "That was a huge piece of glue in our team that we were missing. That we didn't even know we needed."

Shewan wasn't quite sure what to expect when she arrived on the C-U campus this summer.

For starters, she was moving to a bigger campus. There was also the adjustment of fitting in with a new team, and providing leadership to a program in need of a culture change while also trying not to alienate teammates.

"Being a grad transfer is hard," Shewan said. "You don't expect to be a grad transfer and be a captain. What I would assume is you just come in and you're here to play your last year and then you get out. That's not how I really looked at it when I talked to coach. She said she wanted to change a culture, and I said, 'That's what I wanted to do, too.'"

Alex Wittinger, who is now in her fourth season at Illinois and the Illini's top scorer (17.1 points) and rebounder (8.9) for a second consecutive season, said Shewan has struck the right chord with her teammates.

"We have a lot of confidence in her because she's had that experience and she's respectful about it," Wittinger said. "She's willing to be humble. That's a really good quality that leaders should have is to be humble and open to other ideas, but also share their experiences and share what's worked for them."

For Shewan, a fresh start has been the perfect solution to what was one of, if not, the biggest hardships in the 22-year-old's life.

A year removed from knee surgery, Shewan is enjoying life on the basketball court and already has her post-college plans in place. She'll be starting a job at an accounting company in downtown Chicago after graduation.

The Illini have a tough road ahead with 18 conference games over the next two months as Fahey's program tries to erase the sour taste of what was a winless Big Ten campaign last season.

These days, however, Shewan is taking life moment by moment.

"I am always like, 'Anything can happen at any point in time,'" she said. "But, I realize that I am OK with that. Over the past year, I've realized things are going to happen to you and you can't always be so certain in your future. Everything is temporary. I am glad I learned that now. ... I appreciate everything so much more. I had a lot of time to think about my purpose on this earth."