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A special talent: Munster's Gilliard has elite basketball bloodlines and it shows in her game

MICHIGAN CITY -- There's a fluidity to Gracyn Gilliard's game that suggests there's some athletic DNA in the Munster sophomore.

That premise wouldn't be wrong.

"My cousins are Trayce Jackson-Davis and Tayven Jackson," Gilliard said. "My mom's sister is their mother."

Jackson Davis was a star at IU and now plays for the Golden State Warriors, while Jackson is a quarterback for the Hoosiers. Both prepped at Center Grove High School, where Gilliard was eventually headed until her dad's job brought him and the family to Munster.

"I was born in Ohio, then I lived in Indianapolis," she said. "We moved in fifth grade. I went to Frank Hammond, then Wilbur Wright."

Nobody might be happier that the Gilliards wound up in Munster than DeAndre Williams, whose arrival as Mustangs coach coincided with Gracyn's freshman season, when she splashed onto the high school scene, averaging 17.9 points per game and breaking the school record for points in a game with 38.

"She's a special player," Williams said. "When I got the job last year in June, I had an open gym just to meet everybody, to see what we've got. I had never seen her before. She touched the ball, I was like, oh, OK, what grade is she in? I'm blessed. She has a talent you can't deny. She meshed well with those seniors. They welcomed her. To be so young, she has a high basketball IQ. It's a real pleasure to have her on the team."

With the graduation of the Mustangs' next three highest scorers, the expectations on Gilliard, a 5-9 wing, are greater, and she didn't disappoint in their opener, piling up 27 points, nine steals, seven rebounds and six assists in Tuesday's 60-49 win over Michigan City.

"I think I do have pressure, but some of my older teammates help with that," said Gilliard, who plays AAU with the Indianapolis-based Gym Rats. "Nina (Garner) will be back in a couple weeks. She's really a key part of the team. When she gets back, we'll really mesh and be able to show what we've got. I do what I can. I think it really is a team effort. We're all going to step up. I'm excited to see what we become. This showed we can hang even though we're young."

Not that Williams took the 27 points as a given, but he may have been even happier with the the bundle of other stats.

"Before the season started, I challenged her to do more," he said. "She can score the ball. I wanted her to rebound more, be more vocal on defense, get us in our sets. she did that. when we needed a basket, she got a basket. when we needed a stop, she was able to get in the passing lane and get a deflection, a steal. challenge her Every day, you have to be a leader, even though you're a sophomore, to take that role. We're much younger this year. We're looking to grow, keep developing as a basketball team. In a game like this, where it's up and down, so much back and forth, she's poised beyond her years. I'm lucky to have her."

Michigan City coach Mike Megyese, who's had several Division I players in his career, was no less impressed.

"Gilliard's a really good player. That was a mismatch for us. She took advantage of that," he said. "She willed her team, when they needed something to happen, whether it was a steal, a rebound, a free throw, getting to the basket and hitting a shot. She was a complete player. Every time we got close, she said, that's as close as you're going to get. A credit to her. She was the difference in the game."

Gilliard began playing at the age of 8 or 9, when she had drastically different priorities than she does now for the game.

"I just wanted to be the first one down the court that year. I was just sprinting. I didn't care about the ball," she said. "Once I figured out the dynamic, I loved the competitiveness of the game. I think basketball really clicked for me. It's a fun game to play. When you love something, you can play at a high level."

With a cousin in the league, Gilliard hopes to take in a game or two when the Warriors come to Chicago or Indianapolis.

"I think he'll hook us up for sure," she said.

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