BELLEVILLE — When Danielle Duncan, of O'Fallon, signed her letter of intent last week to play college basketball at Columbia, (Mo.) College, it marked the end of a nine-year journey.
And at the age of 27, it is the beginning of a new life for Duncan and her 7-year-old son, Da'Micheal Jackson.
The second-leading scorer on a Southwestern Illinois College squad which won the Region 24 championship and earned a second straight bid to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament this past season, Duncan will her take her long-range shooting touch and join one of the top NAIA programs in the nation.
"I'm really looking forward to it,'' Duncan said. "Columbia has one of the top NAIA programs in the country and has been to the national tournament many times. Of the schools looking at me, it was the best fit. It's close to home. That was a major factor. It's a top program which is close to home."
Duncan's basketball career and life have taken many turns since she graduated from O'Fallon High School in 2004.
"This day and having Danielle get the opportunity to live her dream of playing college basketball is why you coach,"" SWIC coach Mike Juenger said. "To have a kid who has had things happen in her life that were unexpected, but to continue to grow and get where she is now, makes it all worth it. She signed a $25,000 scholarship. That's what we're here for. We're here for these kids."
Duncan's journey has been a rocky one at times. One of the top players in the metro-east while at O'Fallon, Duncan signed with the Blue Storm in 2004 but quickly found out that college wasn't for her. At least not at that time.
"I thought I had life all figured out. I thought I knew what it was all about,'' Duncan said. "When you are 17 or 18 years old, you think you know it all. I found out that I didn't.''
Duncan then became a mother in 2006. In 2008, she enrolled at SWIC again, but quickly withdrew for a second time.
A year later with the support of her parents, Allen and Claudia Duncan, of O'Fallon, other family members and Juenger, she enrolled at SWIC again in 2009. This time it was for good.
"With a young son, I knew it was time that I had to get it (my life) going,'' Duncan said. "I came back and asked Juenger if I could have my scholarship back. He told me that I had to pay because I had to get my grades back in shape.
"He (Juenger) is a great a coach. People don't get the opportunity to keep coming back but he believed in me and kept pushing me. I always tell my dad, that I believe in angels and I really believe that Juenger is my angel. There isn't any way I'd be where I am today without him.''
Duncan still had one more major obstacle to overcome. After working on her grades, the 5-foot-9 sharpshooter suffered a torn ACL while playing in the Blue Storm's second preseason game in her first year back.
As a result, Duncan missed the entire season.
This past season, Duncan averaged 14 points and teamed with Louisville recruit Janelle Cannon and LaTeesha Deloach to form one of the top guard trios in the nation.
While playing basketball, Duncan also worked a full-time job, took a full load of classes and was a full-time mother.
"There wasn't and isn't any time for a social life,'' Duncan said. "Right now, I'm working on getting an education and making a life for my son and myself.
"Da'Micheal is going to be living with my parents while I'm going to school the next two years. It will be tough being away from him. Very tough. But again, its about our future.''
Duncan said she is grateful for her family.
"There is no way I would have been able to go to school, play basketball, work full time and everything else without my parents,'' Duncan said. "They've been there for support and have been there to baby-sit and pick him up when I can't get there.
Duncan is majoring in criminal justice at Columbia College and is looking forward to being college student and experiencing the college life.
"The toughest part for me basketball-wise will be getting in shape because all they do is get up and down the floor,'' Duncan said about her new team.
As for the future, she is not ruling out coming back to SWIC.
"I can see myself coming back to SWIC and coaching with Juenger," Duncan said. "After all he's done for me, I'd like to help him.''