Jahzinga Tracey would rather gargle with thumbtacks than talk about what she’s achieved on the basketball court.
Steer the conversation to last season’s All-America honor, her numerous conference awards, her impending school scoring record, and IUP’s 6-foot-1 senior guard/forward squirms like a perp in a police interrogation room.
“I’ve just never been a player to worry about individual stuff,” she says. “Winning is the only thing on my mind. I don’t think about stats.”
Which is why Tracey clams up when asked about her numbers. No amount of coaxing will get her to talk. Fortunately, Tracey’s numbers speak for her, eloquently. Consider:
- She has scored 1,492 points, the second-highest total in school history, and needs only 231 more to vault past Cathy Torchia as IUP’s all-time leader.
- Tracey holds single-season school records for points (612), field goals (262), and steals (107), and equaled an IUP single-game standard with ten steals against East Stroudsburg on January 6.
- She ranks third on the IUP career list in points per game (16.0) and steals (279), fifth in rebound average (8.5), seventh in rebounds (786), and ninth in field goal percentage (.500).
- Last season, as further evidence of her versatility, Tracey finished in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference top ten in scoring (19.0), rebounds (9.0), steals (3.34), field goal percentage (.524), even blocked shots (1.0).
“What’s impressive is she has the ability to play inside and outside. She can shoot from the perimeter, but she can also drive it and post up some—she’s just such a handful to guard,” says first-year IUP coach Jeff Dow, whose Anderson (S.C.) team joined the Crimson Hawks in the NCAA Division II East Regional each of the last two years. “She’s obviously a great rebounder, too, she’s one of our best defenders, she led the team last year in steals, she can pass—there’s a lot to her game.”
The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association took note last season and accorded Tracey one of ten spots on its Division II All-America team.
“I predicted that,” says Haywood Boston, Tracey’s coach at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa. “When she first got recruited to IUP, I told the coaches, ‘She’s a dark horse. She’s a late bloomer. She’s going to develop. Once she gets acclimated, that girl’s going to be tough.’”
Once she gets acclimated being the key phrase. Tracey hardly made a grand first impression at IUP. The kid who was, as Boston recalls, “shy and reserved, eyes to the ground” when he first met her played the quintessential wallflower during her redshirt season, barely speaking, content to blend into the background.
“You didn’t notice her in the gym. She kind of kept to herself,” recalls IUP assistant coach Courtnay Rattigan, who was then a senior center. “As a player it almost seemed like she was embarrassed. She didn’t want to do anything that would attract attention to herself. Then I came back last year and it’s like night and day. She’s this All-American who completely takes over in games.”
Former IUP head coach Cindy Martin spurred Tracey’s transformation from rough-around-the-edges phenom to polished gem. She worked to instill confidence in a youngster gripped by self-doubt and convinced Tracey she could become an elite player. The one-time wallflower blossomed.
“When I first came there I told her that she would leave IUP as an All-American if she truly committed herself,” says Martin, now the head coach at Youngstown State. “The coaches and the team challenged her in every way possible. But she gets all the credit for stepping up and rising to the challenge.”
Tracey earned PSAC West Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman and was named the Player of the Year as a sophomore. Last season she landed on the WBCA All-America team, her candidacy bolstered by a series of spectacular performances. She posted a triple-double—twenty-one points, fifteen rebounds, ten steals—in a victory at East Stroudsburg; poured in thirty-six points, only two shy of Cindy Davies’1985 school record, against Shippensburg; exploded for twenty-three second-half points to spark IUP’s thrilling come-from-behind win at Edinboro; and contributed twenty-five points and sixteen rebounds as the Crimson Hawks buried West Chester in the PSAC semifinals.
IUP captured a second consecutive conference crown the next night with its school-record twenty-seventh victory. But the Crimson Hawks’ dream season ended with an upset loss to Mount Olive (N.C.) in an opening-round NCAA tournament game at Memorial Field House, a setback that still rankles Tracey.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think we had a great year,” she says. “But I think it could have been even better. In a way, I felt we kind of took a step back, because the year before we made it further than that—we were only one step away from the Elite Eight. Last season we got knocked out in the first round. To get where we wanted to be, to host regionals, and then to have to sit there and watch another team cut down our nets, it really hurt. So that’s our motivation for this season right there. We want to win a national championship. And I think it’s pretty much doable.”
The Crimson Hawks, who return all thirteen players from last year’s powerhouse, should soar with Tracey leading the way. Count on her to run the floor like a gazelle, thread passes through traffic to open teammates, crash the boards, torment opposing ball handlers, and, of course, add to her point total. Torchia’s record is in her cross hairs, not that Tracey has given it much thought.
The only numbers she ever tracks are the ones on the scoreboard.
“Some players at this point in their career would probably have a calendar and be figuring out, OK, it’s going to be this game if I’m averaging this much. She will have no idea,” Rattigan says. “And when it happens, she won’t want the game stopped, she won’t want a presentation. She’ll just want to keep playing. The most important thing to her will be if we won the game. If we won the game, then it will be a good night, regardless if she broke the scoring record.”
When Tracey does pass Torchia and the hosannas rain down on her like candy from a piñata, she’ll likely revert to the shy kid from Hoover who kept her gaze fixed on the floor.
For even when she reaches that pinnacle of individual achievement, Jahzinga Tracey would more willingly gargle with thumbtacks than acknowledge it.