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Never Give Up: Jeremy Ireland Personifies Perseverance

March 12, 2018

Cut from the high school team as a freshman, the former Fenwick basketball player (Class of 2014) is poised to finish what he started. His collegiate journey has taken him to Elmhurst College.

By Mark Vruno


Don’t let his charming smile fool you: The composition of Jeremy Ireland '14 is gritty, just like his Berwyn roots. His Twitter profile description is short, sweet and reinforcing: “Can’t stop. Won’t stop,” which sums up his on-court experience over the past eight years. Pick an adjective: persistent, relentless, resilient, tenacious, unstoppable. They all fit Ireland.


Ireland's gameface isn't all smiles.

“Let me tell you about Jeremy,” offers Fenwick Assistant Varsity Basketball Coach Staunton Peck, “highlighting” five points that illustrate his former player’s character:

  1. He got cut from the freshman team at Fenwick.
  2. He tried out as a sophomore.
  3. He didn’t play much as a junior.
  4. He wasn’t heavily recruited as a senior.
  5. He never gave up on his dream to play college basketball.

Not making his high school team in 2010 definitely was a wake-up call for the 5’9” freshman, who says he was playing basketball and football “just for fun,” up to that point. “I came in raw and didn’t go to any camps or anything, so the coaches really didn’t know me.”


Ireland as a sophomore, after his seven-inch growth spurt sprouted him up to a 6'4" height. (He would grow three more inches.)

Plus, Fenwick had some athletic football guys playing hoops as freshmen: namely Richard Schoen ’14, Ryan Smith ’14 and Robert Spillane ’14, the latter two of whom presently are NFL free agents. (A severe knee injury ended Schoen’s career at Miami of Ohio, where he was a teammate of Smith, the 6’5” 265-lb. tight end. Spillane, meanwhile, was an All-MAC inside linebacker at Western Michigan.)

That winter, “I worked harder than ever in the gym.” A seven-inch growth spurt between freshman and sophomore years helped his game, too. “I was still growing into my body,” which eventually would top out at 6’7”.

Due in part to his substantial growth spurt, Ireland made the Fenwick sophomore team. His junior year, Friars’ teammates included 6’10” Stuart Nezlek ’13, who played at Iowa State; and classmates Danny Dwyer ’14, who is a 6’8” senior playing at Penn; Scottie Lindsey ’14, a 6’5” senior at Northwestern; and Tom Planek ’14, a 6’7” senior at Providence College. That was some stiff competition. Ireland was the second man in off the bench. “Jeremy would’ve been a starter on most other teams,” Coach Peck quickly adds. Despite not having a starting role in 2013-14, he was a captain of his team.

Silver lining

The silver lining in the cloud of such fierce competition for playing time is that Ireland benefitted from college coaches who came to recruit his teammates. “And they’d inquire about me,” he says with a laugh. Based on his Fenwick and AAU performance, he garnered interest among smaller NAIA and NCAA Division III schools, from which he chose North Central College in Naperville. “They came for Dan [Dwyer] … and I figured if I was gonna play D3, the CCIW [College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin] is a solid, competitive conference.”

While with the Cardinals, Ireland played primarily JV ball as a freshman and got "spot minutes" as a sophomore in 2015-16, playing in 19 games and averaging slightly more than five minutes. His academic areas of study are economics and physical education. Sitting in the classroom is one thing, but Ireland grew tired of coming off the bench – again. So he made an executive decision about his playing career. In 2016, "I decided to make a move and reopened my recruiting."


Ireland reopened his recruiting in 2016 and made the move from North Central to Elmhurst College, but he had to sit out a year before he could take the court again.

Will Nixon, the older brother of Ireland’s Fenwick teammate Jamal ’17, had transferred to Elmhurst a few years back. “I talked to Jamal about it. He said Will loved the Elmhurst head coach and that it is a great place. He was right. Coach Baines has taken me under his wing. I’m ecstatic about the whole situation.”

Playing forward/center for the Bluejays (13-12), the now 225-pound Ireland appeared in all 25 games in 2017-18, averaging 31 minutes per game. His 14.8 ppg average (shooting 52% from the field and 46% from the three-point arc) and 8.5 rebounds per game earned him 2nd Team All-CCIW honors this season. Against North Central in late January, Ireland scored 21 points and grabbed six boards.


Ireland (left) nabbed 2nd Team All-Conference honors this past season and will be back again in 2018-19.

The redshirt junior sat out the 2016-17 season due to the CCIW transfer rule, so he has one more year of NCAA eligibility. “I’ll be playing in 2018-19 while attending graduate school,” he says, adding that his master’s degree from EC will be in project management. Future employers who hire Ireland can rest assured of one thing: He won’t quit. Not ever.

Three former Fenwick Friars are going to the NCAA's "Big Dance" this week!


Coach Jim Valvano’s famous speech at the 1993 ESPYs,
“Never Give Up ... Don’t Ever Give Up:”



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