With odds of high school basketball dwindling, Sheehan finds new opportunity
With the frustration growing for high school basketball players, Benet's Molly Sheehan found another option.
Sheehan has been idle while Illinois hasn't allow high school basketball to be played.
So Sheehan, who signed with Division I Valparaiso in November, took advantage of a unique opportunity to graduate high school early and enroll at Valpo.
Sheehan's first day on campus is Thursday. She will start practicing with the team and be eligible to play Jan. 30 against Missouri State.
"It's a great way to take advantage of this weird time," she said. "The best part of high school athletics is your senior season. That was something I'm still struggling to process."
When Valpo coaches asked Sheehan if she would be interested, her first call was to Benet coach Joe Kilbride.
"I said if there's any chance of a season I don't want to do it," Sheehan said. "I want to play for the team, want to finish off with my teammates. Coach said I think this is best."
Sheehan, who played on Benet's state team as a sophomore and was a big part of its nationally ranked team as a junior, said she's received full support since her decision.
"Given all the uncertainty around our season and the NCAA change in eligibility, it made sense for her and I am excited for her," Kilbride said.
"This has been weighing on me if this is possible and now that it is it's nice to see the love and support from teammates, old teammates and friends and family friends," Sheehan said. "It's really overwhelming in the best way possible."
Caught off guard
Sheehan said she was sitting with her family Dec. 2, getting ready to watch Valpo's game against Illinois.
Her phone rang a couple hours before tipoff. Her Valpo coaches had an idea. They need to groom their next point guard and they knew the situation in Illinois "stinks" with prep basketball.
"What are your thoughts about playing with us by the end of January?" they asked.
"I didn't even know it was a possibility," Sheehan said.
She said it took a couple weeks to get her credits in line. Close to turning 17 at the time, her parents had reservations about her heading to college.
Benet doesn't allow early graduations, so the Sheehans worked with Fusion Academy in Oak Brook. Molly had enough courses, took one or two accelerated credits, and "was good to go."
"They (Fusion Academy) were super helpful," Sheehan said. "It's tough, I love Benet, my family loves Benet, I wouldn't even have this opportunity without going to Benet. It's a bittersweet feeling I couldn't say I graduated from Benet. They said they were sad they couldn't give me a proper send-off but were super excited for me."
For years football players have been graduating high school early after playing their senior season in the fall and enrolling in college in January.
It's different for basketball, whose seniors normally would be playing their last year of high school right now. But Oregon State, UConn and Ohio University are among the colleges who recently have had high school recruits enroll early. Players can start on their careers and still be classified as freshmen next fall.
"It's basically a free six months to go learn from the team, coaches, learn from our point guard who is killing it this year," said Sheehan, who is taking 5 classes for 12.5 hours of credit this semester. "It's a free six-month trial. By the time my freshman year (is here) my game hopefully has grown a bunch. I get to fix parts of my game before my real freshman year starts."
Sheehan, a self-described "5-foot-8 and skinny," is excited about working with Valpo's trainers to put on muscle before freshman year. She is eligible to play this winter but isn't expecting to.
"In no way, shape or form am I expecting playing time, but at the same time I'm going to try to outwork everyone," she said. "It's a huge benefit it doesn't affect my four years."
That's not to say there haven't been mixed emotions. When presented this opportunity, Sheehan quickly made a long pro/con list.
"How crazy everything with COVID is, my recruiting process was anything but normal, it felt right ... and extreme too," Sheehan said. "I'm super grateful they are taking this chance on me. Play time or no play time, I'm going to be on that bench. This is my team. I'm super excited.
"At the same time it's tough not to be senior captain on senior night or put the team on my shoulders this year. It was a great high school experience. It's tough to look back and to think I'm done."