When Gena Lenti got the phone call from her father, she didn’t exactly know how to react. On scholarship at DePaul for softball, she found it strange that her father was asking her if she wanted to play for coach Doug Bruno and the women’s basketball team. The fact that her father, Eugene, is the softball coach made it even stranger, but Lenti responded, “Well yeah, sure.”
Not 15 minutes later, she was the newest member of the women’s team and was asked to suit up the next day for a home game against the University of South Florida.
“I was literally in shock the rest of the day,” said Lenti. “I was like, ‘Did that really just happen’?”
Dual-sport athletes are rare enough as it is, but the fact that the Lenti family now has two is even more stunning. Lenti’s mother, Kandace Lenti, is a member of the DePaul Hall of Fame for her exploits as a softball player, but she too participated as a member of the basketball team during her tenure at DePaul. It’s as if her daughter was meant to play two sports all along.
“I’m in the middle between thinking it’s cool and not thinking about it too much,” the younger Lenti said. “Literally my whole life I’ve played both sports so it’s always been a balancing act, leaving from basketball tournaments to go straight to softball tournaments.”
Although Lenti is not yet sure whether she’ll stay on the basketball team for the duration of the season, she is already caught up in a balancing act that would test the most seasoned DePaul student, let alone a freshman.
“We start traveling [for softball] in a few weeks. We started practicing right after break and we’ll be traveling every weekend from Feb. 7 through the first weeks of March,” Lenti said. “I was mapping out my schedule on my computer the other day and it was insane. I was never even in Chicago because of basketball travels and softball travels. At this point, I’ve put it all in the coaches’ hands, like, which practices I’m going to, which day and how many hours I spend at each practice.”
Adding to the chaos is the NCAA regulation stating that student-athletes are only allowed 20 hours of practice time per week, no matter how many sports they play. Lenti must split time between going to basketball practice and softball practice not because she wants to, but because she has to.
“Right now, I’m actually sacrificing my softball practices for basketball,” said Lenti. “It’s also a lot with school. I’ve had to drop a couple classes and do online classes. I know this is a very unique situation and everyone is making concessions on both sides.”
It’s amazing to think that someone could have so much to do in just their second semester in college, but Lenti knows she has the support from her family and her friends.
“I knew my mom would love it because she played two sports here too. The minute I told her I was going to play basketball she told me, ‘I know you’re going to do this all four years,” said Lenti. “My dad is proud of me. I only see him in coach form most of the time, but he’s the one who called Coach Bruno in the first place.”
The support also goes beyond her family. In her debut against South Florida, Lenti’s supporters came out in full to give her a rousing welcome to the court. Friends, relatives and fans alike began chanting for Bruno to put her in to the game late in the fourth quarter, as victory was imminent. When Lenti rose from her seat, McGrath-Phillips Arena erupted with cheers, and it continued for the rest of the night. Lenti missed both of her shots, but the moment still was exhilarating.
“I couldn’t help but smile. At this point, I didn’t even know one play so I was really nervous going in, not to mention everyone screaming. It was really cool,” said Lenti. “Even after, we had to sign autographs and people were saying ‘oh, you have a really big fan club.’ I just told them that South Florida must think I’m the best player on the team with all of these fans.”
Gena Lenti is about as unique an athlete as you’ll find at DePaul. With three and a half years ahead of her as a Blue Demon, don’t be surprised if you hear her name on the court and on the diamond for the rest of her college career. She relishes the spotlight and loves being a dual-sport athlete.
“If I have the opportunity to keep doing it, then I’d love to do it,” said Lenti.
If she does, she could find her own name in the DePaul Hall of Fame one day, just like her mother before her.