In two seasons, Jaynell Gillett has made a transformation her coach and former teammate has never seen.
Two years ago, Gillett was a member of the University of Calgary’s track team. Last season, she changed sports and joined the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball team. This season, BU assistant coach Sarah Lopes expects her to be one of the team’s starting five.
"I’ve never seen a player do a whole new sport and just become this determined and just want to go after it as hard as she is right now," said Lopes, who was the team’s MVP last season before graduating and joining the coaching staff. "Seeing her come in from that first day in Alberta when she came into our (training camp), she was really rusty and nervous and shy. And just seeing her now and what she’s become as a basketball player and a leader is amazing."
Basketball was always a passion for Gillett, but she chose to compete in track after she graduated high school in Bonnyville, Alta. An injury during summer training forced her to reconsider what sport to participate in, and she chose to join the Bobcats. The 6-foot-1 forward struggled to adapt to a higher level of basketball, averaging 2.7 points and 18.8 minutes per game with the Bobcats.
"Track is an individual sport and basketball is a team sport," said Gillett, a third-year physical education major. "There’s no contact in track, where basketball is a very aggressive contact sport. I don’t know how I adapted."
One thing that didn’t waver was her desire to play. Gillett stayed in Brandon over the summer to train, practise hard and bring other players to the gym. She became more comfortable with the physical game under the basket by playing in a spring league and the results were evident last weekend.
Gillett averaged 21 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in the Bobcats’ three wins at the Canadian Mennonite University tournament. Brandon beat the CMU Blazers 97-56, the Winnipeg All-Stars 58-45 and the Red River College Rebels 68-39. Gillett’s best game was against the Blazers, where she had 33 points and 14 rebounds.
After a performance like that, there is no doubt in Lopes’ mind that Gillett will play a key role for the Bobcats this season.
"She will be a go-to player," Lopes said. "We’re going to use her length and her athletic ability a lot. She should be able to beat a lot of people up the court with her sprinting ability that she does have.
"I think she’ll be more of a lead-by-example type of player. She’s not too vocal, but she’s getting better in that way. She sprints hard all the time. She works her butt off in practice and I think all the young girls look up to her in that way."
Lopes knows Gillett and the other Bobcat players will have to step up their game this weekend and during the Canada West regular season. She knows last weekend’s opponents weren’t as talented as others they’ll face in the CIS, and she knows tonight’s game against Mayville State and Saturday’s against Jamestown College south of the border will be a little more challenging.
"Definitely it’s going to be a learning experience for the girls," she said. "It’s definitely going to force them to play harder and push through that fourth quarter as hard as they can and play with a few bigger girls who are more their size. Just the competition level will be a bit tougher."
BOBCAT BITS: Rookie Bobcats forward Aimee Johnston averaged 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in Brandon’s three wins last weekend … The Bobcats men’s basketball team will participate in the Pembina Chrysler Invitational at the University of Winnipeg this weekend. They’re scheduled to play the Manitoba Bisons today at 8 p.m. and the Winnipeg Wesmen Saturday at 6 p.m.