CHAMPAIGN — Jeanae Terry arrived on the Illinois campus this summer as the youngest player on the Illini women’s basketball team’s roster.
The Detroit native was the last of this season’s three-member freshmen class to turn 18. Terry did so on Oct. 11, 2019. Jada Peebles turned 19 last October, while Kennedi Myles’ 18th birthday was last July.
In the midst of adjusting to college life and a new team, Terry came down with mononucleosis. Having played in all three of Illinois’ August games in Australia, Terry was stricken by the illness after the Illini returned to campus and missed some preseason workouts.
The 5-foot-11 wing was back healthy in time for Illinois’ season opener on Nov. 5 and has played in every one of the Illini’s 23 games, making four starts.
“Even being as young as I am, I feel like I’ve been playing this game for a long time to where in certain situations I know what to do,” Terry said before the Illini (11-12, 2-10 Big Ten) host No. 20 Indiana (19-6, 9-4) at State Farm Center at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Hoosiers steamrolled Illinois 83-42 on Jan. 6 in Bloomington, Ind. “I do feel like I had a lot of growing up to do. I think that just comes with confidence at the age that I’m at, again just turning 18 late last year.
“I am feeling comfortable and confident playing on this team. Just the confidence that my coaches instilled in me and my teammates have in me just makes me want to work even harder.”
Terry has become more of an impact player for Illinois since the beginning of January. During the past eight games, the former three-star recruit, according to ESPN’s Hoopgurlz, has averaged 6.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists while playing 26.6 minutes per game during that stretch.
Terry put up 11 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the Illini’s 70-66 victory this past Sunday at Penn State, which snapped a six-game losing streak by Illinois.
“I think (Terry) went through what all freshmen go through,” Illini third-year coach Nancy Fahey said Wednesday. “Everything’s new for them, from housing to friends to a coach that may be saying the same thing but in a different way. What you look for is a person who wants to get in the gym and get better. That’s what she’s doing.
“She’s blended in great with the team. I am really excited with how far she’s advanced this year. For her to bounce back from mono, and contribute like she’s doing, says a lot about her.”
For an Illinois team lacking size in some areas, Terry gives Fahey a mismatch to exploit, especially when she’s matched up against the other team’s point guard on the defensive end. Running the Illini’s offense at point guard also plays into Terry’s main strength as a distributor.
Terry said getting out in transition on the fast break is the best way the freshman guard feels she can facilitate easy offense for Illinois.
“The two things she does is she sees the court incredibly well,” Fahey said of Terry. “She’s such a willing passer to the point where I’m like, ‘Go ahead, take (the shot).’ (Getting the assist) is one of the biggest things she loves, though. That’s just her personality. The other thing is trying to get mismatches, where I can post her up or have her take it to the rim. She can finish so well to the basket.”
What has impressed teammates about Terry is her willingness to learn. Terry said she spends a lot of time talking to Brandi Beasley, asking for the senior guard’s advice on a variety of subjects, mostly about basketball.
Petra Holesinska has also noticed the inquisitive side to the freshman guard.
“It’s been really impressive to watch (Terry) grow,” said Holesinska, Illinois’ leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. “You know the best part about her is she always wants to learn. Every time I talk to her, she’s always listening. She wants to get better every day. For her, being like that as a freshman, is pretty impressive.”