Despite having graduated one year ago, former Penn forward Jess Knapp is still on the sidelines.
The women’s basketball alum (C’12) is almost as close to the action as she was last year, helping announce games for the Penn Sports Network alongside Dan Fritz.
This isn’t Knapp’s first foray into journalism. She previously was editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper.
“Pursuing journalism in college and also playing a sport is kind of crazy,” Knapp said. “[In high school] it was kind of something fun to do. I did really enjoy it, but it kind of got pushed to the backburner once I got to Penn.”
After coming to Penn undecided about her major, Knapp found her place taking psychology.
“It was a game-time decision,” she joked. “I knew I wanted to work with people, not behind a desk or behind a computer or with numbers.”
Now, people — more specifically, kids — make up her daily life. Knapp teaches science to eighth graders at Freire Charter School in Center City as a corps member of Teach for America.
“Basketball in college was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but [teaching] is hard in a different way because it’s something I’m not familiar with and not really strong at,” she said.
Despite the demands of having to juggle coursework and a busy basketball schedule while at Penn, Knapp feels that her current schedule is even more draining.
“The thing with basketball is — I’m very type A — so if I’m not good at shooting free throws I can go and shoot 500 every day until our next game and probably be better at it. But with teaching, it doesn’t really work that way,” she said. “There’s no instant gratification really. Everything’s big picture.”
Despite the challenges, Knapp uses the motivation she received from her coaches and professors while she was a student as a foundation for her approach to teaching.
“I’ve had great coaches all my life,” she said. “They’re my role models so I kind of base how I act and my values off of how they act whether they know it or not. I’m coming off of collegiate basketball on a team where you’re accountable for yourself and you’re supportive of your teammates. It’s a different mentality, and for kids — who I can’t even blame them, [they] don’t necessarily want to be in your class on that day or reading last night. It’s hard to motivate.”
Because Philadelphia requires all of its teachers to be certified, Knapp is also taking classes two nights a week at Penn and will receive her teaching certificate in 2014.
Along with the obligations that come with her commitment to TFA, she is also working as a coach for Freire Charter School women’s basketball team.
“Coach McLaughlin and his assistants have really brainwashed me,” she said. “Being an assistant for someone who’s not him or his assistants is hard because I have different views on things and I don’t want to step over any boundaries.”
Both in her work as a coach and as an announcer for PSN, Knapp has begun to see the game in a whole new way.
“When you sit there and your sole job is to break plays down and make teaching moments out of it, you notice a lot,” she said. “There are a lot of things the coaches have been telling me for three years, and I’m just like, ‘They’re crazy, they have no idea,’ but no, it actually happens. I’m just happy to still be connected with the Penn program and still feel valuable.”
Knapp isn’t the only recent alum who still frequents the Palestra. Fellow 2012 graduate and co-captain Jourdan Banks is also a friendly face.
Carrying on their legacy and stressing the value of being a part of the program is something to which both women are committed.
“Freshmen that don’t really know me that well, they see me commentating and they see Jourdan Banks at every other game even though she lives in New York City,” Knapp said. “Maybe it doesn’t make sense to them, seeing how invested we still are in the program, but hopefully we can change their understanding before it becomes their senior year.”
Knapp’s own senior year was interrupted by an injury that tore two ligaments in her left knee in late December 2012. Despite the risk, she played through it, not wanting to lose her last season of basketball.
“I don’t even think I would change [getting injured],” she said. “I knew the ropes and I knew what was expected of me and I think I was at my peak, the best physical shape I’ve ever been … it put a lot into perspective about why I play this game and why I value this game.”
Though Knapp was cleared from her injury in September, the real test will come when she leaves her announcing duties for a night and is back on the court at the Palestra for the alumni game in late February.