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Bloom Township's Bria Gaines puts a shot up against Sandburg's Ashley Youngwirth during the Hillcrest Holiday Classic girls basketball tournament in Country Club Hills Wednesday, December 26, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
What does Bloom’s Bria Gaines remember most about the summer before her junior year?
“It was probably the hardest summer of my life,” she said. “It was surely the hottest.”
That was the summer Gaines endured days and weeks in the sweltering heat of the Washington Junior High School gymnasium in Chicago Heights and dedicated herself to becoming a successful basketball player.
Fifteen hundred points and 800 rebounds later, the perspiration Gaines left on the Washington gym floor now serves as inspiration to her teammates and anyone who is committed to becoming the best at what they love.
“That summer was the turning point of my career,” said Gaines, the 6-foot-2 senior center who has led the Blazing Trojans to an 18-6 record this season including the championship of the prestigious Hillcrest Holiday Classic.
“That summer helped me out a lot,” she added. “I worked on my dropstep. I worked on my agility. I worked with a medicine ball. It had to be 100 degrees plus in that gym, but I dove into the game because I knew I had to in order to become a successful player.”
Bloom coach Ron Newquist can’t help but wonder how many more points Gaines might have scored during her high school career if she had the opportunity to develop sooner.
“It’s an amazing fact that she only scored about 40 points her freshman year,” he said. “She’s packed most of her 1,500 points into three years. Once she got her strength, once she got her confidence, she exploded onto the scene.”
Gaines averaged nearly 28 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks per game her junior year, but has seen her scoring drop off slightly this season as more teams commit to double- and triple-teaming her. This season, she is averaging about 21 points and 17 rebounds per game.
But numbers don’t matter to Gaines.
“It‘s never really about me,” she said. “And even if I have a bad game, I know my teammates are there to help out and help us win.”
Gaines, one of only four seniors on Bloom’s roster, has become something of a “mother” figure to a very young team that relies heavily on 6-foot sophomore Katherine Strong, 5-5 freshman Danielle King and 5-4 freshman Jailyn Lumpkin.
“The girls are really close,” Newquist said. “They hang out together outside basketball. They go to the boys’ games together. Bria is like their mom. She is an unbelievable leader, and she is very supportive of the other girls. She has helped the younger players mature a lot.”
In return, Gaines has enjoyed some of the most memorable moments of her career this season, like winning the Hillcrest tournament by beating the host Hawks 73-69 in the championship game.
Gaines scored 22 points and had 17 rebounds in that game and was named tournament MVP. But again, it wasn’t about her.
“No one gave us a chance,” Gaines said. “We had to go out there and show everyone that when we play as a team, we can accomplish anything.”
Like making a few more memories.