Women's basketball: Notre Dame thrilled to have newcomer Shepard doing her thing
NEW YORK — One of the first calls that Jessica Shepard made when she found out that she was granted immediate eligibility at Notre Dame was to her 90-year-old grandfather.
He was one of the people to get her into basketball, starting when she was 3 years old. Lately, he's been the one who was calling her every day, seeing if the waiver that would let her play at Notre Dame right away — instead of sitting out the year that most transfers do — was granted.
"I think he was more excited than anyone else when I told him," Shepard said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "He's someone growing up that I always worked out with in the gym."
Shepard grew up in Nebraska and had dreamed of playing for the Huskers. She got her wish, starring for the team in her two seasons. She shattered the school's freshman scoring record and became the first player at Nebraska to earn first-team all-conference honors as a freshman.
Her sophomore year she was second-team all-conference, but a coaching change after her freshman season didn't really help the 6-foot-4 forward. She gave the new coaches a chance, sticking around for her sophomore season before deciding to leave.
"I really enjoyed my time there, but they were going in a different direction by rebuilding and I wanted a bigger challenge," Shepard said over the summer when she was at the Under-23 USA Basketball camp. "I wanted a chance to compete for championships and thought I had that at Notre Dame."
Shepard said at the training camp she was prepared to sit out the season per NCAA transfer rules, making her eligibility come as a bit of a surprise. The NCAA doesn't share what specific information is in waivers, stating privacy laws.
Women's basketball: Louisville's Durr, Oregon's Ionescu both off to blazing starts
The junior forward didn't go into specifics of what her waiver said except to say that "it was an accumulation of personal reasons and different things like that."
Notre Dame senior associate athletics director Jill Bodensteiner was involved with the petition.
"I talked to Jess and got a sense of things," she said. "Generally these (waivers) are difficult to obtain. They went away from personal hardship, family illness. There's no magic in pulling it off. We submitted the relevant information and had documentation which helps."
Bodensteiner said that Nebraska was a great help in getting the waiver submitted.
"Hats off to Nebraska, we were partners in this," she said.
Shepard's immediate eligibility has helped the Irish, who were down to only seven healthy scholarship players to start the season. Kathryn Westbeld missed the first game while recovering from April ankle surgery but returned on Tuesday night in a game against Western Kentucky.
Shepard had 19 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Western Kentucky on Tuesday night and has given Notre Dame an unexpected dynamic offensive threat.
"She can do so many things that help us," coach Muffet McGraw said.