Kailyn Gilbert’s respect for Adia Barnes and Arizona’s burgeoning program is apparent with the highly-touted Class of 2022 prospect committing to the Wildcats late Monday night without making a trip to Tucson to first check out McKale Center and the campus.
She knows all about Arizona’s sellout crowd at McKale when the Wildcats beat Northwestern in the 2019 NIT championship game. She is aware that more than 10,000 fans showed up last season when Arizona beat ASU.
“I really enjoy playing in front of people and play in front of a big fanbase like Arizona women’s basketball,” Gilbert said from her home in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday night. “I really like that.”
Arizona’s fans will really like the 5-foot-8 guard based on her style of play and scoring ability.
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Gilbert told reporters when she was a freshman at Tampa Prep that she models her game after former Texas A&M star Chennedy Carter, who is now with the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. Carter is a quick playmaker and scorer with a deft shooting and passing touch and a flair for the spectacular.
Carter is not one who lacks confidence. She loves to show the crowd she is having fun with her gestures after making a making a deep 3-pointer or a drive to the hoop.
“I can score from all three levels, the 3-pointer, mid-range and at the basket,” Gilbert said. “I just feel like it’s really hard to guard me. Not too many can guard me.”
As a sophomore at Tampa Prep last season, Gilbert led the state of Florida and finished fifth nationally in scoring with an average of 32.1 points per game. She also averaged 11.2 rebounds per game, which exemplifies her quickness and toughness despite giving up size to frontcourt players.
She transferred to nearby Seffner (Fla.) Christian Academy this season “mainly to play a tougher schedule,” she said. The program has won three division titles and finished second once in the last five years.
“I just feel like they will probably push me more to get me ready for college,” Gilbert added about Joe Cooper’s staff.
Despite playing on the other side of the country, Gilbert has kept close tabs of Arizona’s program. She noticed Arizona make big victories last year, such as the win over No. 4 Stanford.
She said Arizona’s fun style of play under Barnes — pressure defense and attacking in transition off steals — caught her eye.
“I have built a really good relationship with the coaches — Coach Adia and her coaching staff. Also, they’re winning, and I want to be a part of that,” Gilbert said.
Aari McDonald has established herself an All-American guard who can score and get her teammates involved with her energetic style of play.
The way McDonald is flourishing also sold Gilbert on Arizona.
“I think (Barnes) does a really good job of developing the point guards and I feel as if there’s a lot of me in Aari,” Gilbert said. “Just seeing that on the court already kind of drew me to Arizona.”
When Gilbert was a freshman at Tampa Prep in 2018-19, she set four goals for herself — winning the state player of the year before her senior year, capture a state title, play in the McDonald’s All-American Game and make the U-17 U.S. national team.
She already was named the 3A state player of the year last season as a sophomore. All the other goals are within reach. She has all the accolades to come to Arizona in 2022-23 as the most decorated recruit in the program’s history.
She is rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, which also ranks her as the No. 6 point guard and the 18th player overall in her class.
“It’s kind of amazing just to think that I am one of the highest players to ever come to a program, but I still have to work hard,” Gilbert said.
She hopes to make a trip to Tucson for the first time after the Seffner Christian season ends. Its regular season is scheduled through Jan. 26.
“Definitely after my high school season, I’ll be out there, probably two times,” Gilbert said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.