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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2008

From the court to the courtroom for UT basketball standout

In Their Words appears Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg collaborated with Jane Roman, a former University of Toledo basketball player and assistant coach.

You might say Jane Roman has spent her life running from court to court.

For years it was basketball. Now, it's the kind with a judge and jury.

Roman is one of 20 Toledo women's basketball players to surpass the 1,000-point career scoring mark, but one of very few to accomplish it in three seasons. The 5-foot-7 guard played from 1989-90 through the 1991-92 season, a period during which the Rockets went 75-20 overall and 41-7 in Mid-American Conference play.

After graduating, she spent five seasons as a UT assistant coach, two under Bill Fennelly and three under Mark Ehlen, working with teams that compiled a 118-35 record.

Roman left coaching to pursue a law degree. She accomplished it in 3 1/2 years, going to UT's law school at night while holding a daytime job as a judge's clerk in Toledo Municipal Court.

For the last six years she has worked downtown in her own private practice as a criminal defense attorney. Roman has been a co-counsel in a murder trial, has represented numerous clients in theft and drug cases, and recently served as co-counsel to a client who was fully exonerated of rape charges. In the very near future, she expects to become one of just a handful of female lawyers in Lucas County who are certified to try death-penalty cases.

A Michigan native, Roman first attended Rice University in Texas, but transferred to UT after her freshman season to return closer to home and to her ailing mother. After sitting out one year, she became a sharp-shooting guard for the Rockets, making 136 career 3-pointers. Roman's career 3-point shooting percentage (.386) is tied for second highest in school history. She finished with 1,029 points.

Fifty-two of those points came during one memorable weekend at the end of her junior year. With the Rockets qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time, Roman tallied 25 points as UT scored an opening-round upset at Rutgers. Two days later, she posted a 27-point performance at Connecticut, but UT lost in a controversial finish, 81-80. As a senior, Roman played on another squad that won a first-round NCAA game.

A 2006 inductee into the Varsity T Hall of Fame, Roman is the first to admit she played on teams packed with talent. In fact, during her three seasons, she played with six teammates who also belong to the school's 1,000-point club."

"MY SENIOR year at UT we went 15-1 in the MAC and, if memory serves me, the 15 wins were by an average of about 30 points [27.7], so that tells you what kind of talent we had. It's amazing that six other girls I played with and I all scored 1,000 points during our careers. You'd think that would be statistically impossible considering there's only one ball. We definitely had some players."

"BILL FENNELLY gets the credit for building the program, and he was and is [at Iowa State] a tremendous coach. But a lot of it traces back to Tim Selgo, Bill's predecessor, who gave up coaching to become an assistant athletic director. He brought in Kelly Savage and Jodi Witte and Kris Finefrock and others. He recruited me too. My mom loved Tim. She was so disappointed when I didn't go to Toledo out of high school. Tim was transitioning out of the coaching job when he heard I was going to transfer from Rice and he put Bill in touch with me.

"Then, after Bill was at UT, he recruited Dana Drew and she was one of the best ever. She fit in right away and we'd never have had the success we had my junior and senior years without her. We all knew we were good players, but no one had any idea how it would come together. Bill got us to buy into his program and his philosophy. He got us to believe what could be done."

"I WAS ONE of the players Bill took to the press conference the day before our first NCAA Tournament game at Rutgers and the media there didn't even know who we were. You would have thought we were from Antarctica for all the respect we got. But then we won. And we started to make a name and the program started to get an identity and a reputation."

"BILL TOLD US not to pack for one or two days, that we'd be going right from Rutgers to Storrs up in Connecticut; that it wasn't going to be a token appearance. And he was right. I had a pretty good game against Rutgers, but, heck, it could have been any of us.

In the game against UConn, we had the ball, down one point with not much time, I guess under 10 seconds, left in the game. Dana put up a shot and I tracked down a long rebound out by the 3-point line. I sort of forced up a shot that was no good, but Kim Sekulski got the rebound, put up a shot, and was clearly fouled as the horn went off. She should have had two free throws. But there was no instant replay then. The refs went to the scorer's table to talk to the clock operator and they made the determination that the game was over.

"Hey, you earn the home court and I guess you get those types of calls. But it's why to this day I root against Connecticut."

"THAT WEEKEND is absolutely one of my great memories. I mean, I don't know how or why it came together like that. But it was a high point. So was winning back-to-back MAC championships and advancing to the second round of the NCAA both years. But my very favorite moment, for personal reasons, was winning the MAC Tournament at Cobo Arena in Detroit my junior year. My mom, who had multiple sclerosis, was in her wheelchair and she and my dad sat down at court level, and being able to share it with them was the No. 1 moment in my mind. We won it there again my senior year, but my mom had passed away. So my junior year was really special."

"I HAD ALWAYS wanted to go to law school. In fact, after I got my bachelor's degree Bill was trying to help me get into law school. At the same time, he got the OK to hire a second full-time assistant and he asked me if I'd ever thought about coaching. I was 21 years old, had just graduated from college and he was offering a salary, full benefits and a vehicle. It was the real world with bills to pay, so I decided to try it. And I really enjoyed it.

"I just saw Bill's Iowa State team on TV the other night and he hasn't changed a bit. He has the same passion and enthusiasm he had when I played and coached for him. He has a system he believes in and you can't argue with his success.

"It was a completely different coaching style and philosophy when I worked for Mark. Different, not bad. I enjoyed every day I worked under him and his approach certainly has worked too. I don't think he ever got the credit he deserved for what he did his first few years.

"The program was loaded, but people don't understand how tough it is to keep things going at that level. He tailored who he was to the talent he had. People say, 'Well, anyone could have stepped in and won at Toledo,' and that is absolutely not true."

"I LOVE PRACTICING law and I realized early on that criminal defense work was what I wanted to do. I wanted to work for myself, call my own shots, and not be in a situation with a big firm where my performance was based on how many hours I billed. But it takes about a five-year window to establish a private practice, so I always took all the court-appointed work [paid for by the county] that I could get. I'm more established now, so I guess maybe 40 per cent of my work is court-appointed. It's certainly an interesting job. I don't see myself ever doing anything else."

"PLAYING AT UT spoiled me when it comes to winning and losing. When I started practicing law I lost one of my first cases and I was pretty upset. Another lawyer told me, 'Jane, you know, we're supposed to lose.' And that's true. In most cases, people did what the indictment says they did.

"So I don't even want to tell you what my winning percentage is in court. You take the small wins, like a sentence reduction, and the rare big wins, like a not-guilty verdict. But there aren't a lot of those and that's hard to handle when you're a competitive person. It took me awhile to understand that it isn't always about winning. It's holding the prosecution to the burden of proof and doing the very best job I can for my client."



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