Jagodzinski’s giving back to the Greenwich hoops community

Greenwich native and Wheaton College basketball player Jana Jagodzinski goes hard to the basket during a recent game her senior season. — photo courtesy of the Wheaton College athletic department

Greenwich native and Wheaton College basketball player Jana Jagodzinski goes hard to the basket during a recent game her senior season. — photo courtesy of the Wheaton College athletic department

Recent Wheaton College graduate and former Greenwich High School girls basketball standout Jana Jagodzinski certainly misses playing basketball, a sport she has loved since being a child growing up in town.

Now, Jagodzinski is taking her admiration for hoops and channeling that into coaching others to reach that next level.

“Coaching has been really fun for me,” Jagodzinski said. “I’ve been the one playing and no one really realizes how hard it is to be a coach. Seeing the game from a different perspective is kind of eye-opening.”

This summer, Jagodzinski started taking her knowledge of basketball and became the coach at the Greenwich-based High Rise Basketball Academy.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” Jagodzinski said. “Bobby [Spezzano] and Drew [Gladstone] went out of their way to contact me. I got a message from Bobby and it was a very humbling message about how he would really love for me to be a part of what they have going on now. It really meant a lot to me. They wanted me there to help all the young girls in town. They both went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and it’s really exciting.”

Upon graduation from Wheaton College, both Drew Gladstone and Bobby Spezzano, former GHS basketball standouts and co-founders of the Greenwich-based High Rise Basketball Academy, contacted Jagodzinski about being the first female counselor at the camp this summer.

“She had a great career at the high school and was playing college basketball,” Gladstone said. “We really try to go out of our way to find staff members that have the experience, whether playing or coaching. Everybody here pretty much played college basketball and we have some professional players that play overseas. We thought she was a perfect fit. We met her, loved her attitude, you could tell she was really into it and she was looking to give back to the Greenwich community.”

Although Spezzano graduated six years before Jagodzinski did, he certainly knew of her highly successful basketball career for the Cardinals.

“We were looking to have our first female counselor at camp and thought she would be a good addition because we have a lot of girls sign up for our camp and we wanted to feature someone successful coming out of Greenwich,” Spezzano said. “She had some great accolades coming out of high school and can be an inspiration to a lot of the girls in Greenwich coming up.”

Gladstone and Spezzano remember growing up in Greenwich and people weren’t as eager to play hoops in town compared to other sports like football, lacrosse and baseball. That’s the same feeling Jagodzinski had growing up as well, hence why she was enthusiastic about helping grow the sport.

Growing up playing hoops in town was difficult for Jagodzinski, who really didn’t have that one person she could talk to about their experiences playing, or how to emotionally handle situations on the court. Now that she’s graduated from Wheaton College, Jagodzinski wants to give youngsters the help that she wishes she was able to get.

“I wanted someone to be real with me about things they’ve gone through, whether injury or bad experiences,” Jagodzinski said. “I think that I am good at bringing that to the table. I am able to relate to the kids and let them know that if they are having a bad day that it’s OK because everybody has a bad day. Basketball can help them with that and how you can turn to that to open more doors for you.”

 — photo courtesy of the Wheaton College athletic department

Jana Jagodzinski beats her Babson opponent during a recent game for the Lyons. — photo courtesy of the Wheaton College athletic department

While she’s not running up and down the court as a player, Jagodzinski has been giving 110% to the High Rise Basketball Academy as an instructor.

“Jana has been a huge addition to High Rise,” Gladstone said. “She has a lot of knowledge of the game and is a local legend in girls basketball at the high school. She has a good name, it’s great for the kids to work, talk and to be coached by someone that has been so successful from this town. It’s great. The boys and girls have responded to her really well and she’s been a great help.”

One of the biggest difference for Jagodzinski this summer was the transition from player to coach.

“It’s very different coaching than playing,” Jagodzinski said. “I know from playing, and having so many coaches from so many teams, I’ve taken a lot of what I’ve learned, different methods, different teaching styles, and am trying to apply it to coaching the kids. There are some young kids and some older kids, so I’ve learned that it’s very important to change up the coaching style depending on the age.”

At High Rise, a lot of the campers for the summer are in middle school. Spezzano wasn’t sure how that age group would react to having a female as their coach. The concerns didn’t last long.

“Because of Jana’s competitive spirit and her knowledge of the game, she was pretty hard on the kids, probably harder than some of the men coaches,” Spezzano said. “I think she could be a very good coach. She pushed them during games and told them what they needed to do right. I think she will be very successful, whether she coaches a boys or girls team.”

After graduation from Greenwich High School, Jagodzinski entered Drew University for her freshman year. Looking for a much more serious basketball school than Drew, Jagodzinski transferred to Wheaton College, located in Norton, Mass., during her sophomore year.

“The experience at Drew wasn’t all that I was hoping for and I went into Wheaton looking for a much more serious basketball program,” Jagodzinski said.

From her first day at Wheaton, it was love at first sight. Jagodzinski played in 55 games during her tenure with the Lyons and finished with 218 points. She averaged 4.0 points per game and grabbed 113 rebounds. Jagodzinski was also solid from the charity stripe, connecting on 51 of the 70 free throws she attempted in her career.

“Coach [Melissa] Hodgdon is a great coach and the college does a great job having a solid basketball program,” Jagodzinski said. “It’s very structured all the time and there’s a schedule, even if the offseason. Coach Hodgdon held us accountable for being a part of a team and giving 100 percent all the time. She was great with basketball but also very influential as far as academics go. The basketball program promoted success in the classroom as well as on the basketball court.”

While Jagodzinski had a blast at Wheaton, the time didn’t go by without an obstacle or two for the former GHS standout to overcome. In her junior year with the Lyons, Jagodzinski sustained a serious back injury. While going up for a rebound, she took a hard tumble to the floor and broke her sacrum bone in half.

At first Jagodzinski lost a lot of movement in her legs, but that quickly came back. Despite missing the remainder of her junior year, she was able to fully recover and rejoin the team on the court her senior campaign.

“It was pretty disheartening,” Jagodzinski said. “That was a tough experience for me, but I didn’t want to quit. I stayed around the team and they got me through it. Just being around them and sitting on the bench during games actually helped me recover from my injury. It also helped me stay positive.”

Throughout her tenure at Wheaton College, Jagodzinski said that Senior Night was a moment that she will never forget.

“That was our biggest game, by far,” Jagodzinski said. “It was that feeling of accomplishing four years of college basketball and pushing past the injury that I had. I was proud of myself. The atmosphere we had that night in the gym was something we’ve never had before. It was a great feeling. I will look back on that and always miss nights like that.”

With her competitive days on the court for Wheaton and Greenwich High in the past, Jagodzinski is hoping to stay in the basketball community, this time as a coach at some level.

“She’s very energetic, very good with the kids and at the same time has that competitive spirit that you need to have as a counselor and a coach,” Spezzano said. “She has a great knowledge of the game and it’s great that she was a part of our camp this summer.”

Although she’s enjoying every moment coaching basketball, Jagodzinski still misses suiting up and dominating the paint.

“I miss playing a lot,” Jagodzinski said. “I still play with some of my friends in pick-up games,” Jagodzinski said. “I still have friends in the area and went to school with. We always try to organize something just to keep it going. Being around it when coaching, it really makes you miss playing. It makes me realize how much I love playing basketball.”

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