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Finding her footing in a new role

Reserve guard Skyler Gill starting to show the impact she can make for the Jayhawks

6 min read
Kansas guard Skyler Gill (center) watches the action from the bench during a recent KU home game at Allen Fieldhouse. [Chance Parker photos]

By her own admission, it took “a good bit of time” for Kansas guard Skyler Gill to get fully comfortable in her new surroundings.

But if Gill’s most recent game is any indication of what’s ahead, she could play an important role for the KU women’s basketball team as it enters the most crucial stretch of the season.

The Jayhawks will look to make it four wins in a row when they welcome Cincinnati to Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday night for a 6:30 p.m. Valentines Day tipoff.

The streak could be even longer. Just five points in a road loss at first-place Oklahoma on Jan. 27 separate Kansas from being in position to push the current streak to six in a row with a win over the Bearcats.

KU’s veteran starters have been responsible for most of that. But Gill played a massive role in the Jayhawks’ most recent win.

Her numbers did not pop off the stat sheet in any way. But they meant a lot to her teammates and showed up in the way she operated and moved and executed with confidence throughout the game.

There was a portion during Thursday’s win over Houston, when Gill came flying into the lane after helping off of her offensive player and skied to block a shot.

Before she had even landed, both senior guard Holly Kersgieter and senior center Taiyanna Jackson, who wrote the book on blocked shots, jumped out of their chairs on the bench to celebrate the stop.

Gill hasn’t always inspired such reactions, but she seems to be getting there. And her late-season surge could not be coming at a better time.

“She’s the energy we need,” Jackson told R1S1 Sports after the win over Houston. “Especially off the bench. Her confidence is up and she’s just finally comfortable in the rotation. I think that Sky was just trying to get comfortable in one position and also with learning Brandon’s system.”

Brought to KU in the offseason by head coach Brandon Schneider to add depth and versatility to KU’s bench, Gill struggled to find consistent minutes for much of the season. The reason was simple. Not only was she used to playing the 4 at North Alabama instead of the 2 or 3 like she plays at Kansas, but the Wichita native also was new to the idea of being a role player.

“This is a role I have never in my life played,” she told R1S1 Sports. “It took me a while to catch up on it, and I’m getting there.”

In fact, she actually likes it.

Gill said part of what appealed to her about the opportunity at KU was that Schneider already had so many talented, go-to-type players on the roster. Her role, she believed, was to merely contribute to their production and the team success overall.

“Me and Brandon have talked about it a lot,” she said. “My role’s a lot different than what it was when I was a playmaker, but I don’t mind it at all. I enjoy it. I’m starting to pick up on my role a little bit better and I enjoy playing my role. I like learning.”

Asked to describe what is expected of her in a couple of sentences, Gill painted a picture that looked an awful lot like the way she played against Houston.

“Go be a hustler. Go be a go-getter. Get a bucket every now and then. Get some stops. And help the team out,” she explained. “I’m here for the team. I’m not just here for me. Whatever I need to do to make sure we get a W, I’ll do.”

Against the Cougars that included the simplest of things. The aforementioned block was a bit of a highlight on the night, but she also had a skip pass to Kersgieter for an open 3-pointer and a nice drop-off pass to Jackson for an easy bucket after attacking the paint off the dribble.

There was even a moment when a pass that was thrown her way led to a turnover by a teammate. Rather than rolling her eyes or quitting on the play, she snapped into a dead sprint and tried to chase down the play. She didn’t get there, but her teammates noticed — and appreciated — her effort and hustle.

“Defense,” said Jackson, when asked what Gill can best bring to the team. “Her energy, her rebounding, the way she’s able to guard the ball and block shots and protect the paint – all of that can help us.”

Gill didn’t always understand that. She didn’t come to KU expecting — or even wanting — to be a star or even a starter.

She also had never been an on-ball defender or a defensive stopper. But she has reached the point where she takes pride in doing that now.

“At first it wasn’t very fun at all,” she said of trying to be a lock-down defender. “But now I kind of enjoy it. Brandon sort of made me love it in a way.”

With defense now in her heart, it’s about fine-tuning those skills from here. Whether that’s in practice or in her head, Gill is always trying to do that.

“I just watch other people,” she said. “When I’m watching other teams or watching a game on TV, I watch their best on-ball defender and how they move their feet and what they do with their hands and what they do. I just try to pick on it and then go do it.”

She has the quickness and footwork to be effective. And now she has the mindset for it, too.

Still, even with her newly discovered love of defense, Gill wanted to play a big role. That, however, had to be earned over time rather than handed to her on Day 1.

“Oh, it took a good bit of time to get that,” she said after the win over Houston. “You can ask a lot of us. But tonight showed I’m starting to pick up on it.”

She continued: “It was definitely difficult, but I knew if I sat there and pouted about it, I wasn’t gonna learn. You gotta take everything and learn from it. Pouting’s not gonna help anything. That’s just the mindset that I have to have. When things aren’t going my way, that’s life. I understand that.”

Part of what made her getting to this point a slow process is the standard Gill has for herself. She says she’s a bit of a perfectionist and adds that she’s always been hard on herself. Sometimes too hard.

“I’ve always been one to hold myself accountable,” she said. “There haven’t really been too many people to hold me accountable until now. And Brandon does a great job of it.”

The stage is set for Gill to continue to give this team quality minutes as they race to the finish and try to make their case for a postseason berth.

Whether they get there or not will not be entirely up to Gill, but she and her teammates believe she can play a part in it and they hope she will.

“Now, it’s just continuing to grow,” she said. “It’s time to grow and keep learning.”

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