By Tom Robinson
Professional soccer may have made its return in Germany, but Jess Genco knew the day she hurried out of the country in mid-March that her rookie season in professional basketball there was over.
Genco’s Eisvogel USC team was on an eight-game winning streak in the Damen Bundesliga Basketball League when the season came to an abrupt end because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The whole process of just adapting to the game over there was definitely a huge learning experience,” said Genco, who, after spending time in quarantine in Lake George, N.Y., is back at home in Lackawanna County. “It’s a higher level, different style. Toward the end, we were really coming together, clicking, finding each other, setting each other up for great opportunities.
“Once the team started to click like that, things would just come easier and we would get easier buckets.”
Genco, a former JB Hoops AAU player, was an all-state performer at Scranton Prep and a Colonial Athletic Association all-star at Northeastern University on the way to her professional career.
A double-double of 16 points and 10 assists in her final game signaled both Genco, individually, and Eisvogel, as a team, were playing a high level when the season was interrupted. While she wanted to see how the season would have come out, Genco was also happy to get home.
“It wasn’t easy being over there, especially living alone in a foreign country,” Genco said. “With only two practices a day, it was kind of difficult. The days got long.
“I’m kind of taking some time right now to evaluate if I was just home sick or if it’s not the kind of lifestyle I want.”
Resuming her professional playing career when world health conditions allow is one option Genco is contemplating now that she is back with her family. Furthering her education while starting a coaching career is another.
“I’d like to go back to school and get my MBA in a grad assistant program,” she said. “That would really help me decide if I want to go after coaching or if I want to take another route.”
Genco made it clear she can compete professionally, landing a starting spot for her rookie debut, then regaining it for good later in the season in the highest level of basketball in Germany.
The 5-foot-6 point guard finished the season with averages of 8.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds.
If all had continued to go well, Genco might have just been returning home around now, following the postseason with the team in Freiburg. One more win in the streak would have broken a three-way tie and given Eisvogel USC sole possession of third place in the 12-team league.
Genco got her first indication that things were about to change when she awoke in the early morning hours of March 13 to a message from her mother, former Fordham University player Cathy (Scoblick) Genco, informing her that U.S. president Donald Trump was imposing travel restrictions because of the coronavirus. At morning practice, players were told the Bundesliga season would go on as normal. By the time they arrived for afternoon practice, that had all changed and it was time for Genco to begin the scramble to get through screening and get a flight home that night while it was still feasible.
One night in isolation at home – with the dental practice of her father, former University of Scranton player Gerard Genco, they needed to avoid risk following her inter-continental travel during the pandemic – was followed by a drive to Boston to pick up two friends also coming back from Europe. The group traveled together to upstate New York to share a house during quarantine before Genco could make her way back to northeastern Pennsylvania, ending an eventful year since her college career ended.
Genco had started all 122 games in a college career in which she scored 1,567 points – third-best in school history – and became the first Northeastern player to surpass 500 assists on the way to a final total of 548. She also set records in starts, minutes played (4.687) and 3-point field goals (298) in a career.
As a senior, Genco finished third in the country with 38.4 minutes played per game and led the CAA in scoring (17.5), assists (4.5), free throw percentage (91.3) and 3-pointers made (2.8 per game).
Genco became the first Northeastern player to earn consecutive first-team, all-CAA honors. In doing so, she attracted the interest of an agent, who approached her about the possibility of playing in Europe.
Northeastern coach Kelly Cole enlisted the help of other former players while providing advice and Genco wound up being represented by the Two Points Agency.
Genco’s family history – her great grandfather emigrated from Italy – made her eligible for Italian citizenship, which in turn made her a more viable candidate to play in a European league.
Germany’s professional rules allow for three non-European players, but Genco no longer counted against that limit, setting up her chance to play for Eisvogel.
“The club I played for is pretty unique in that they pride themselves in having a lot of German players, so there was only one European player, me, and three Americans,” Genco said. “The rest were all German girls, which was different from a lot of teams in the league that would just bring in professionals from anywhere.”
After a slow start, it turned into a winning combination.
Eisvogel used the eight-game winning streak to reach 13-8 with a 78-60 victory over XCYDE Angels with Genco, who was second on the team in 3-pointers for the season, going 4-for-8 from long range.
“We were really rolling, kind of catching lightning in a bottle,” said Genco, the team assist leader.