Crossover dribbles, head-spinning assists, and a lethal jump shot: just a few tricks of the trade for Baruch alumna Jessica Duleba (’14). And after an incredible collegiate career, Duleba has taken her talents to the pros.
“I was sort of a late starter,” Duleba remembers, “and I didn’t begin playing basketball until middle school. But everyone who plays the game dreams about making it to the pros, and as the years passed—and as I realized that I was getting better and better—it suddenly seemed like a very realistic goal.”
After graduating from Baruch, this two-time CUNY MVP played professionally for AZS UMCS Lublin in Poland and just recently signed a contract with France’s ACLPAB Calais for the 2015–16 season. A natural shooting guard, Duleba is an offensive force, averaging 15.8 points-per-game on nearly 48 percent shooting.
She’s quick to point out, though, that she wouldn’t be the player, or person, she is today if not for her time at Baruch. A Michigan native, Duleba transferred to Baruch before her sophomore year and immediately fell in love with her new surroundings.
“I loved New York City right off the bat,” she says. “I was able to be a Resident Assistant, which made the transition really easy, and I just enjoyed how new everything seemed. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that NYC is one of the best basketball cities in the world.”
Her seamless transition to the Big Apple helped Duleba make an immediate impact on the hardwood. In only three years, she racked up over 1,000 points for the Bearcats, earning ECAC Player of the Year honors her senior season. After graduating, she hired a sports performance coach, Frank Ortiz, and lined up some pro tryouts, resulting in her first contract with AZS UMCS Lublin.
“The arenas have a crazy atmosphere in Europe,” says Duleba. “Every game is packed and feels sort of like Baruch’s Battle of Lexington. It’s easy to get excited for each game, although the travel can be a little rough—for example, we occasionally would drive eight hours across Poland, play a game, and then drive back in the same day, which was absolutely exhausting.”
But after a restful summer, Duleba can’t wait to suit up for her new team in France.
“A lot of people have underestimated me because I was a Division III college player,” she notes. “But that’s an incorrect stereotype, especially since Baruch is a cut above other schools. Being in New York, I was able to compete in summer league games against all types of people, including some of the nation’s best Division I players, which is how I realized I could compete on the pro level.”
After a remarkable first season in Europe, no one will be underestimating Duleba again. And her advice to other Baruch student-athletes is simple: Don’t be afraid to chase your dream.
“It never hurts to try,” she says. “I’m a strong believer that if you go for what you want, you can achieve it. You need to do your research and surround yourself with the right people, the right coaches. It’s not always about talent level, and once you realize that, you can really succeed.”
View Duleba’s highlight reel.
—Gregory M. Leporati