Since being introduced to organized basketball in third grade, Jenna Reneau has embraced the game with an unbridled passion that has taken her to places and plateaus she readily admits weren’t on her career radar just a few years ago.
The girl who began playing hoops year-round in elementary school and later earned all-district honors — athletically and academically — as a forward for the Krum Bobcats is now on a fast track ascending the ranks as a high school, collegiate and pro basketball official.
And she couldn’t be happier running up and down a hardwood court wearing the iconic black and white striped shirt and carrying a whistle.
“It just kind of happened,” Reneau, 27, said of her blossoming officiating career. “And I fell in love with it.”
It’s Reneau’s combination of confidence, drive and desire — coupled with that love of the game — that has helped make her one of the game’s young refereeing success stories. Throw in a constant thirst for sharpening her on-court officiating skills, and it’s no surprise that she’s in her third season working for three NCAA Division I conferences as well as officiating games in the NBA G League.
“She works hard, she works enthusiastically, she conducts herself professionally at all times,” said George Toliver, the NBA’s associate vice president of referee development. “And right now she’s continuing to work hard [in the G League]. As with all the other referees, we’re going to see where the journey takes her.”
Reneau, who played varsity basketball for two years at Krum before graduating in 2010 and earned a degree in communication studies at UNT in 2015, hopes that her journey eventually lands her a spot on a court in the WNBA or NBA.
“My goal for this next year is to get hired by the WNBA,” she said. “And I would say my long-term overall goal is to get hired in the NBA. But I’d like to have more experience, especially in the WNBA. That’s one of the hardest leagues to work, I think.
“And to get hired in the NBA, there’s no other way than going through the G League.”
Working G League games — including those featuring Frisco’s Texas Legends — remains her priority, although she averages four to five games each week by mixing in assignments from Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference and Southland Conference.
If she has a break, the Denton resident often will fill her idle time by working a high school game through the North Texas Basketball Officials Association.
“When I first started officiating, it was just kind of a hobby,” said Reneau, who officiated youth volleyball matches while in high school and began working middle school and high school basketball games after enrolling at North Central Texas College. “I had my regular job and I got to do this. It was great — I loved it.
“When people started to see me officiating, a lot of people let me know that, ‘Hey, you’re going to go places with this. You have the it factor.’ ... Then I went to [officiating] camp after my first year and I got hired to do college basketball, which I wasn’t even expecting.”
Inspired by the support, positive feedback and encouragement she was getting, Reneau devoted her passion to becoming the best ref she could be. That meant becoming active in professional organizations such as the NTBOA and Great Southwest Officials Association, attending as many training camps as she could around the country and furthering her experience by working as many games as she could fit into her schedule.
In 2013, while working on her degree at North Texas, her work ethic was rewarded when the NTBOA gave Reneau its Iron Woman of the Year award because she had worked the most games of any member official that season. Reneau remembers working “an absurd amount” of games.
“When she first started officiating and working her way up, she would come by and get a copy of our game films,” said longtime Krum coach and athletic director Lana Degelia. “She’d take them and study the officials, just doing her homework.
“I would see her at middle school games and varsity games,” Degelia said. “Whenever she could get could get on the floor, she would do it. I don’t know if when she started she didn’t know how good she was going to be and where it was going to take her.”
She made the jump to pro basketball when she was hired by the G League three years ago — almost by accident.
During the offseason in 2015, Reneau was attending a camp for high school officials when she was asked to meet with J.B. Caldwell, an NBA national referee scout who had been observing her work at the camp.
“After a game, I went into this room and I introduced myself,” Reneau said. “He said, ‘Hey, Jenna, have you ever thought about refereeing for the NBA?’ I looked at him puzzled and said, ‘Do you want the truth?’
“I was like, ‘No, I had never thought about that.’ Then he goes, ‘Would you like that opportunity?’”
Reneau didn’t hesitate: “Absolutely.”
From an initial field of some 3,000 referees the NBA was observing around the world, Reneau began the NBA’s vetting process that accepted the top 150 into its “grassroots” training session. From there, 48 were selected to participate in a mid-level event. A group of 30 were promoted to train in the NBA’s “elite” session.
The NBA hires about 10 new officials each year for the G League.
“Jenna came through the process like [that],” Toliver said. “She went from the grassroots level to a hire over a two-year period. She went through certain steps, and she came back and advanced to the next level to the point where she was hired in the G League.
“She has improved and is currently in good standing with us.”
Calling her first professional basketball game is a memory she won’t soon forget.
“I can’t remember the exact score, but it was like 150-140,” she said with a laugh. “It was the most intense game I had ever worked. Dunks left and right, 3-pointers left and right. It was run-and-gun. I had watched games, I had prepared, I had studied the rules.
“I was pretty nervous until the ball hit the court. Then you go to work. You just have to focus and work.”
As a senior at Krum, Reneau helped the 34-2 Bobcats advance to the area round of the playoffs. She was a solid scorer whom Degelia recalls being smart and anything but soft.
In her last game, Degelia said, Reneau dislocated a finger, turned away from the Krum bench and popped the joint back into place before running back down the floor to rejoin the action.
“She could score,” Degelia said. “She brought that toughness and hard-nosed play that you just don’t get from some players. She knew the game then, and as a high school player I don’t think she always used that to her advantage.
“But I’ve watched her officiate, and that hardheadedness is a good asset for an official. It doesn’t surprise me at all that she’s officiating at the level she’s officiating at. She does a fantastic job. Her mechanics are great; her judgment is some of the best — it’s that basketball IQ that she has.”
Reneau said making the jump from officiating women’s college games to the G League was “night and day.”
Referees always have to deal with coaches, players and fans questioning some of their calls, but in the G League she was on the court with physically gifted men whom some might consider imposing next to a petite official. And the pro game has rules that differ from college basketball.
“When we get out there, [players and coaches] just see us as an official,” Reneau said. “If you can call and explain [a foul], that’s all they need. It’s just being professional.
“A lot of our job is conflict resolution. It’s trying to find a way to see where they’re coming from and trying to communicate that the rules are what you saw, not how they’re seeing it. Anytime I’ve had conflicts with [players or coaches], I usually don’t remember it later. I move past it.”
Degelia says it’s her former player’s knowledge of the game and personality that work to her advantage as climbs up the officiating ladder.
“I’ve always felt like she had one of the highest basketball IQs that we put on the floor,” Degelia said. “She knows the game and loves the game, and she doesn’t get rattled. I’ve seen her in big games where the coaches and fans are losing it and she doesn’t get rattled.”
Reneau’s budding career has taken her across the country and earned her too many airline miles to count. She continues to work as many games as she can to gain the knowledge and experience that she hopes will propel her to the next level.