Jana Nearing was in Alaska with some friends last summer when she placed a half-desperate telephone call.
“I played so crappy last year I thought I wasn’t going to get my scholarship back,” Nearing recalled. “So I called (North Idaho College basketball coach) Greg Crimp and said, ‘I’m just wondering if I’m still playing?”’
“Well, yeah,” the coach replied.
“OK. Do I have a scholarship?” Nearing asked, hesitantly.
“Well, yeah, but if you don’t get your act together I’m going to take it away at semester,” Crimp lectured.
Nearing’s still on scholarship these days. She might even be on an All-Scenic West Athletic Conference roster soon.
The sophomore forward is NIC’s top rebounder and second-leading scorer as the third-seeded Cardinals (24-4) prepare to face No. 6 Dixie Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Region 18 Tournament at Christianson Gym.
Her breakout season is essentially due to a move of roughly 10 feet.
Nearing was ineffective at wing last year. She’s a power forward this season, often stationed at the high post.
As an interior force, Nearing had been the A-2 player of the year at Bonners Ferry High. However, colleges normally don’t clear the lane for 5-foot-8-1/4 power forwards.
But that’s what Nearing is.
“She’s a lot more comfortable,” Crimp said. “It’s difficult for other teams to match up with her because she’s an inside player that’s quick to the ball and she has quick inside moves.”
Nearing believes her lack of height actually helps her rebounding. She’s second in the SWAC in the category at 8.1 per game.
“In a way, it’s easier because taller people are used to standing there and getting the ball,” Nearing said. “Rebounding’s not that difficult if you move your feet and go get the ball. You can watch the ball and know the route to take.”
Last year, Nearing watched the ball quite a bit from the bench. She had streaks of quality play, but was derailed by separate ankle sprains.
“I had a lot of hopes for her last year,” Crimp said. “Every time she started to play well, she got sick or she hurt her ankle. She missed a lot of practices.”
Nearing purposely moved inside during rat-ball games prior to this season to convince the coaches that playing forward was her comfort zone on the court.
“Just to show ‘em where I belong,” she said with a smile. “I stopped guarding the guards and started guarding the inside players.”
Yet, Nearing is a capable shooter from 15 feet and in, which makes her effective at the high post.
“She shoots a true jump shot,” Crimp said. “And I think she can extend her range out a little more.”
Nearing is NIC’s top field-goal shooter (46.7 percent) among the starting five. She maneuvers around 6-foot opponents and has a knack for drawing fouls.
“My brother (Jeff) taught me a lot of moves,” said Nearing, who has a flock of relatives who attend home games.
Nearing’s improvement reflects the improvement in NIC’s six sophomores. The Cards were 20-8 last season, finished fifth in the SWAC and were destroyed by Ricks in their regional opener.
The Cards led the SWAC most of this season before last week’s 0-2 road trip. Not to worry, said Nearing, who is receiving light recruiting interest.
“We had a meeting on Monday and talked about it,” she said. “I never really believed it when people said they didn’t worry about winning but just having fun.
“Last year’s team had talent, but didn’t have fun. This year we’re having fun and it makes all the difference.” , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WOMEN’S BRACKET The schedule for the Region 18 women’s basketball tournament at NIC’s Christianson Gym: Thursday: Game 1: No. 4 Ricks vs. No. 5 Southern Idaho, noon; Game 2: No. 2 Utah Valley vs. No. 7 Snow, 2 p.m.; Game 3: No. 1 Salt Lake vs. No. 8 Eastern Utah, 6 p.m.; Game 4: No. 3 North Idaho vs. No. 6 Dixie, 8 p.m. Friday: Game 5: Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 3, noon; Game 6: Winner of Game 2 vs. Winner of Game 4, 6 p.m. Saturday: Championship, 5 p.m.