When Jennifer Mathurin arrived at NC State in 2013 as a freshman student-athlete, life on the basketball court proved to be a little bumpy.
Mathurin, who is of Haitian descent, grew up Montreal, Canada, speaking French as a primary language. Let’s just say that – from her teammates’ perspective – a lot of things got lost in translation those first few weeks.
“They couldn’t understand my accent. I would call out a play and they would look at me like I was crazy. So I started watching a lot of African-American movies to copy their accents – and it worked,” she said.
These days, the 6-1 Mathurin is a senior in her third year starting at forward for the Wolfpack. Things are going much more smoothly – on and off the court.
NC State is making a strong case to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year with a 20-11 record – a season that included the Wolfpack’s first win at Duke in 20 years, a rare sweep of North Carolina and a fifth-place ACC finish. Mathurin ended last season averaging 11.4 points and 7 rebounds per game, with a 35-percent shooting percentage from behind the arc. She received, for the second straight year, the Chairman of the Boards award as the team’s best rebounder.
Earlier this season, the Pack knocked off then-No. 2 Notre Dame, 70-62, before a boisterous home crowd in freshly renovated Reynolds Coliseum; the loss was only the second for the Irish in ACC play since they joined the league for the 2013-14 season. Days later, NC State followed that confidence-boosting victory with a 70-61 road win at then-No. 6 Florida State.
To date, the 17th-ranked Wolfpack has beaten four Top 15-ranked teams and its record stood at 19-6, 9-3 in the ACC, following a Feb. 12 win over Virginia Tech.
“I am so proud of the efforts my teammates have made throughout this season. It’s my last year and we are playing well, so it is a lot of fun,” Mathurin said. “Most of our games are televised so my friends and family can also enjoy following us at home, which is very important for me.”
Mathurin is enrolled in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She carries a grade-point average of better than 3.3, has made the Dean’s List and was named to the 2016 All-ACC Academic Team. She’s one of three players that her team nominated for Academic All-America honors.
Being at NC State has provided hands-on experiences related to her major, social work. Mathurin has volunteered for more than two years at the Oak City Outreach Center, a site in downtown Raleigh offering collaborative services for people who are homeless or near-homeless. She has completed an internship at Urban Ministries of Wake County’s Helen Wright Center, where she served as a case manager for single, homeless women working to stabilize their lives.
“Getting closer to the community and giving back to people has filled me with a lot of joy and knowledge,” she said. “My dream has been to play basketball professionally, and I strongly believe that being a part of the Wolfpack family is an advantage that many wish they had. Another dream of mine is to be able to help as many people as I can in my lifetime, which is why I chose to major in social work.
“I truly believe that this is where I belong and that I might be able to change the world, one person at a time.”
Mathurin’s own dreams took clearer shape just a few years ago. She started playing basketball when she was 11 or 12 but only began taking the sport very seriously during the second half of high school. At times, basketball served as a distraction or outlet away from school and home responsibilities that included helping care for her two younger brothers.
As the sport began providing mentors and opening doors, she channeled her faith, strength and passion into becoming better at basketball.
“No one expected me to receive a full scholarship or to play for an NCAA Division I school, and to be honest, I didn’t either,” Mathurin said. “I was just a young girl living in the poorest area of Montreal with a mother who was struggling daily to provide her children with food, clothes and a place to stay.”
Only a few years after arriving in a new country, with all of the adjustments that brought, Mathurin can hardly believe the end of her college experience is approaching. She will graduate in May. She credits her teammates, the Wolfpack women’s basketball coaching staff and everyone in the Department of Social Work for making a great impact on her life.
“Everything – from early practices to late nights in the gym, and from thousand word-essays to annoying group projects – has helped shape my sense of priorities, time management and character,” she said.
Mathurin, who also loves to travel, cook and design her own clothes, feels prepared for whatever comes next.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity that was presented to me – not only because NC State is a great academic institution, but because it is also a part of the ACC: one of, if not the best, athletics conferences in the country. Someone saw me for who I could become and decided to take a chance, which allowed me to follow my dreams. I’m thankful for NC State and thankful for all the donors who made it possible for me to be on a full scholarship.”
“There are so many other students who have dreams and aspirations, and donors can help them achieve them.”