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February 7, 2003

Sudden impact

From: Davis Enterprise, CA - 07 Feb 2003

By C. Colton/Enterprise staff writer

OFF AND RUNNING: Aggie Jennifer Decuir (24) leads the breakaway Dec. 28 against Fresno Pacific. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

Lack of attention on the UC Davis campus sometimes results in close encounters with a bicycle.

The campus' miles of bike trails can be hazardous to the health of newcomers. Just ask Jennifer Decuir, whose first steps onto campus in the fall nearly delivered some handlebars into her sternum.

Aside from that brush with pain, Decuir felt right at home. This was not Humboldt State, nor was it anything like her home in Southern California. She was inpired to buy a bike.

As UCD women's basketball head coach Sandy Simpson says, the transition was seamless. Decuir, who began her career at Humboldt State, brought her brand of mad game to the Aggies, and they've been rockin' and rollin' ever since. UCD is riding a four-game winning streak and an 8-4 record in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, good for a second-place tie with rival Chico State.

UCD -- now the West Region's No. 7 team -- prepares for a crucial homestand against San Francisco State tonight and Sonoma State on Saturday. The squad's do-everything 2-guard remains a key piece to what began as a puzzle in preseason.

"She's been a blessing," UCD post Sarah Allen says. "Jen Decuir is a huge factor on this team."

Simpson concurs.

"She's pretty tough to defend," he says. "She's been a tremendous addition to our team."

In one aspect, Decuir might be the best thing that happened to the Aggie program. A junior transfer from Cerritos College -- where she played last year after a disappointing freshman experience at Humboldt -- she's a proven scoring commodity, lighting it up for 14 points per outing. An unselfish player, she's distributed the ball to teammates as if passing bread at the dinner table. Her skills have had home fans "oohing" and "ahhing" frequently, but she doesn't stop to listen to the cheers. Partly because she's too busy playing a defensive menace, but mostly because she can't hear them.

Decuir has moderate severe hearing loss and wears hearing aids virtually all the time. She lost approximately 65 percent of her hearing as a child, which her parents discovered sometime after her third birthday. Fearing the impairment might stunt her development, the Decuirs put Jen into speech therapy immediately and thus avoided any long-term impediment.

"It's kind of a miracle when you think about it," Decuir says. "With the technology and hearing aids, it's really helped out."

As she grew up tuning into the sounds of her childhood, Decuir got to the point where she learned to accept the hearing aids.

"They're like 90 percent a part of my body," she says. The innocuous hearing aids fit snugly inside her ear canals, and Decuir asserts they aren't a nuisance on the floor. "It's fine unless somebody hits my ear."

Decuir's mother Suzette said her daughter was never the type to moan about her condition or ask why it happened.

"I do remember the kids wanting to try them out," Suzette recalls. "One of her teachers in high school told her to take the radios out."

But in a game where coaches are screaming out offensive sets and teammates must communicate defensive assignments, couldn't a hearing impairment be a hindrance?

Simpson and Allen will be the first to say it isn't.

"It hasn't been an issue," Simpson says, though the coaching staff adopted laminated signs on offense this season and Decuir sometimes reads lips in timeout huddles.

"She's pretty on top of things," Allen affirms.

For certain, she's added a long-range threat for the Aggies. Decuir leads the team with 21 3-pointers, and fans still discuss the clinic she put on from behind the arc at Aggie Jam, the team's promotional debut in November.

Decuir's got more than just the deadeye shooting, Simpson says.

"Her strength lies in ball handling, being creative in transition and being able to break down a defender off the dribble," Simpson insists. "The shooting is just icing."

That comes from long hours of shooting on the backyard hoop at the family home in Long Beach, where Decuir's father Chris encouraged her to shoot with her left arm behind her back.

"It's just hard work that finally paid off," says Decuir, who credits her year at Cerritos as being paramount to her improvement as a basketball player.

Decuir's true inspiration, though, is her 17-year-old brother, Ben. Born with Spina Bifida, Ben has no feeling below his waist and uses a wheelchair. Already a favorite with Decuir's teammates, Ben still surprises his big sister.

"He's done things I've never done," Decuir says. Among them: riding a jet ski, deep sea fishing, meeting Lakers star Kobe Bryant ... and Ben's an accomplished basketball player, too. He'll travel to Birmingham, Ala., for a Junior Nationals wheelchair basketball tournament next month.

"For the most part," Suzette says, "I think they look to each other for inspiration."

-- Reach C. Colton at

Friday, February 7, 2003

Copyright 2003 The Davis Enterprise. All rights reserved.