McPhatter’s career-high day another entry in diverse, challenging career

Written By Josh Croup, Co-Sports Editor

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Ja’Nia McPhatter gave her team a pep-talk in the locker room before Saturday afternoon’s game against Alice Lloyd College.

It was a “much-needed” speech that sophomore guard Kaitlyn Smith said the team needed to hear from its senior leader after losing four of its last five contests.

“It obviously talked herself up as well,” Smith said.

McPhatter led her team to a 76-68 victory over the Eagles behind a career-high 33 points, entering another chapter in her Point Park career book that is full of trials, triumph and leadership.

The senior guard and forward from New Castle, Pa. called the Pioneers’ recent struggles a funk that she knew the team could overcome. She of all players knows how to overcome adversity.

McPhatter transferred to Point Park for the start of the 2012-13 season from La Roche College. She averaged nearly 15 points per game and almost nine rebounds per game to lead the Pioneers to a conference championship and trip to the national tournament.

That was all after recovering from a broken finger at La Roche. Prior to what would have been her junior season, McPhatter suffered a season-ending right ankle injury in a pre-season scrimmage.

She returned to the court in 2014-15 and was recognized as the conference’s Comeback Player of the Year, averaging 10.8 points per game and five rebounds per game. But three minutes into the final regular season game against Indiana University East, McPhatter went down with a knee injury that would sideline her for another year.

“She’s one of those players that never quits,” said Assistant Coach April Austin. “She still has the will and determination to get back on the court and perform the way she does.”

McPhatter didn’t quit on 2015-16, even though she had to sit out the season. The pre-med major returned to the Pioneers as an assistant coach alongside Austin. The season allowed her to work with Head Coach Tony Grenek, the same man who recruited her before she first committed to La Roche.

The 2015-16 Pioneers struggled and were a team that Grenek called “soft.”

“When we were down, you knew we weren’t coming back,” Grenek said. “[Basketball] really is not about winning or losing. It’s about playing your hardest at all times, whether you win or whether you lose. I think that was frustrating for her to see.”

McPhatter groomed the young and challenged Pioneers with the ultimate goal of returning to play alongside her players the following year.

“It was hard,” McPhatter said. “I just kept my head up and used my experience and knowledge to help the girls. They’re around my age, so it’s easy to talk to them and get through to them. It was hard to watch, but I was glad that I was able to still be a part of it.”

Austin said the experience was valuable to McPhatter, who gained a different perspective of the Point Park women’s basketball program.

“She’s translated that over into her gameplay,” Austin said.

Grenek welcomed McPhatter to his coaching staff last season, and with open arms, welcomed her back to the court this season, ending her career the right way.

“She’s an unbelievable person,” Grenek said. “The average human being wouldn’t even be on the basketball court right now. She’s the heart and soul of our team.”

McPhatter took over Saturday’s game against Alice Lloyd, scoring more points in a single game than any other player at Point Park under Grenek.

Smith began her Point Park career last year with McPhatter as her assistant coach. Now, as a teammate, Smith said the team still looks to McPhatter for guidance.

“She’s not afraid to take control when things start spiraling out of control,” Smith said. “She’s the first one to step up and say, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do and here’s how we need to get it done.’”

McPhatter’s performance Saturday topped her previous career-high of 28 points that came in her first season with the Pioneers on Nov. 30, 2012. The Pioneers defeated Indiana University Southeast 74-69 in the double-overtime affair, with McPhatter establishing career highs in rebounds (19) and free throws made (12).

She did not make a single three-pointer in that game. Saturday, she matched her career-best with four treys. She’s made 39 of her 128 shots from long range this season, both of which are by far more than any other previous season.

McPhatter said injuries have forced her to develop her shot from long range, turning her into an all-around player that Grenek can use in a variety of fashions.

“When she first came here, she was more catch and drive and she could get to the hoop on anybody,” Grenek said. “Now, she’s really hindered because of injury. She had to totally redevelop her game. That shows you what kind of person she is, what type of player she is and that she can step up and do the things that we need to win.”

McPhatter became the 14th player in the 37-year history of the Point Park women’s basketball program to score 1,000 points in her career on Jan. 21 against IU Southeast. She is currently leading the Pioneers in scoring and steals, making a strong case for a third all-conference honor.

Three reconstructive surgeries and two missed seasons later, the one goal remaining for McPhatter is to guide her teammates to a championship.

“Those are nice accomplishments, but I really just want the girls to come together and win a championship,” McPhatter said. “I really think we can. Some people have never won championships in their lives. I want them to have the opportunity, because I’ve had that experience. I want it more for the girls in my last year.”

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