Russell right at home as Redbird
Jamie Russell has found her game, and it was all about getting back to Normal.
Russell, a 2008 Rock Falls High School graduate who went to Wisconsin on a basketball scholarship, has established herself as one of the top players in the Missouri Valley Conference at Illinois State. She transferred to ISU after two unhappy, unproductive seasons with the Badgers.
"I just wanted to play," Russell said, "and after pretty much sitting at Wisconsin for two seasons, I was starting to lose some confidence. It's worked out great for me at Illinois State. I guess you could call me a happy transfer."
The 5-foot-8 senior made her mark on the ISU program in 2011-12, after sitting out a season as a transfer. She was the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year after averaging 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, along with a team-leading 109 assists and 82 steals.
She was an all-conference first-teamer, and earned a spot on the all-defensive team as well. Team honors included co-MVP, Best Defense and Hustle Award. She started all 32 games, and helped the Redbirds to a 19-13 record, including 13-5 in conference.
Russell's role on the team changed a bit heading into the current season. She played point guard a year ago, but head coach Stephanie Glance wanted her to become more of a scoring threat, so she moved over to shooting guard.
Her scoring output, at 13.4 points a game, is similar to a year ago, and is third on the team behind 6-2 post player Janae Smith (15.6 ppg) and 5-10 wing Candace Sykes (14.1 ppg).
"We like to get out and run if possible, and that's where I do a lot of my scoring," Russell said. "We've got a couple of go-to players that we look to in the half-court, but if my number's called, I'm looking to score."
Much like in her high school days as a Rock Falls Rocket, however, it's on the defensive side of the ball Russell shines equally bright. Through 18 games, she has a team-leading 46 steals, with the next-best at 17. She draws the other team's top offensive threat, provided that player isn't a post.
"I love playing defense," Russell said. "That's the part of my game I take the most pride in. Coach puts me on our opponent's best scorer, and I love that challenge."
Russell's signature game this season was on Nov. 11, when she dropped 30 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals on Iowa in a 74-64 loss. It's no accident it came against a Big Ten foe, as she is still smarting a bit from her Wisconsin experience.
"I get pretty pumped up when we play Big Ten teams," she said, "because I don't want people to think I couldn't have played at that level."
In that same vein, Russell hopes to continue her basketball career after her days at Illinois State are done. She earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice last summer, and is currently taking classes toward a second degree in sociology, though she admitted her main inspiration for additional education was to use up her last season of basketball eligibility.
Before the season, Russell was named to the Final Four Watch List, for seniors eligible for the WNBA draft at the end of the 2012-13 season. Thirty finalists will attend a combine at the Final Four, slated for April 4-6 in New Orleans.
Russell is hopeful of being one of the 30 finalists, but even if she isn't, she hopes basketball will be in her future.
"I want to play basketball professionally," she said, "and I'm OK with going overseas to do that. It's just something that I love to do."
High school: Rock Falls, class of 2008
College: Illinois State, senior
FYI: Starting guard for Illinois State women's basketball team. ... Averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds for Redbirds. ... Transferred from Wisconsin after 2009-10 season