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Troup’s Gilbert headed to East Georgia State

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The season didn’t end with a championship celebration, but it was nonetheless a special ride for Amber Gilbert and her teammates.

Troup High’s girls’ basketball team went 27-2 during a memorable 2019-2020 season that ended with a loss to Americus-Sumter in the Class AAAA state-championship game.

Leading the way for Troup was Gilbert, the leading scorer and rebounder on a team that came within one victory of a state title.

Now with her high-school days behind her, Gilbert is preparing for the next stage of her basketball journey.

Earlier this week Gilbert announced that she’ll be attending East Georgia State College in Swainsboro, and she’ll be a freshman on the basketball team that will open its season in November.

“She’s a college girl now,” Thornton said. “I don’t even know if she saw this for herself. For her to get this opportunity, it’s great.”

Thornton was there for advice whenever it was needed, but she took a backseat in the recruiting process, knowing it was important for the decision to truly be Gilbert’s.

“I kind of stayed behind the scenes for the most part,” Thornton said. “We talked occasionally, and I talked to coaches on her behalf, and we’d end up saying the same exact thing, and we weren’t even talking. I wanted it to be all her decision.”

East Georgia State is a two-year school, so Gilbert will have the option of transferring to a four-year program down the road.

“This means a lot,” Gilbert said. “I’m very excited that I got an opportunity to get where I’m at now.”

Thornton said that Gilbert had offers from four-year schools, but she feels that going the junior-college road could be better for her long-term.

“There were some smaller schools, Division II, NAIA schools, that did want her, and more than likely they’ll still be there,” Thornton said. “Taking this route allows you try to get better offers, because I think she can be a Division I player.”

It didn’t take Gilbert long to make an impact at Troup.

Gilbert started as a freshman, and she helped Troup post a winning record and reach the state tournament.

Gilbert has remained a fixture in the lineup since her freshman year, and she’s a three-time first-team member of the all-Region 5-AAAA team.

The 5-foot-9 Gilbert has been Troup’s leading scorer the past two seasons, and she has the strength and determination to score in the paint, and the shooting touch to known down 3-pointers.

Gilbert was often Troup’s go-to player, but Thornton appreciated the unselfishness shown by her star player.

“She didn’t care about stats. She just wanted to win,” Thornton said. “As a coach, you love to have players like that. She could have easily been selfish, because this is her senior year.”

Thornton added that her teammates “look up to her. They think the world of her.”

Gilbert led Troup in scoring with more than 15 points per game, and Aniya Palmer and Alexcia Murphy were also double-digit scorers.

“We depended on Aniya some games. We depended on Alexis some games,” Thornton said. “And when we needed her, she stepped up and took control.”

One of Gilbert’s most memorable games came in a loss.

In the Region 5-AAAA championship game against Sandy Creek, Gilbert went down with a knee injury in the third quarter, but she returned to the court and made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of a 56-49 loss.

Gilbert’s injured knee remained an issue after that, but she played and made a huge impact in all five state-tournament games.

“I was going to be mad if I wasn’t out there,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t feel right, but I played.”

In a thrilling second-round victory over Cross Creek, Gilbert scored 18 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

Gilbert added 14 points and seven rebounds in a third-round win over McDonough, and she scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a semifinal victory over defending state-champion Carver.

In Troup’s final game, a 66-52 loss to Americus-Sumter in the state-championship game in Macon, Gilbert led her team with 15 points.

“It was a lot of fun,” Gilbert said, reflecting on that spectacular season. “They were like my family. It was amazing to go to the state championship. We didn’t win the championship, but we made it there.”

While Gilbert gutted it out and played with a sore knee during the state tournament, she did miss some time over the years with injuries.

Thornton believes that being forced to the sideline on occasion was a blessing in disguise for Gilbert.

“She’s so smart,” Thornton said. “When she was hurt, she acted more like an assistant coach. She was involved in the ins and outs, and I think that helped her as a player, because the game slowed down so much for her.

“I’m sure a lot of times this season when she wasn’t having a great game, she was still out there coaching her teammates on where to be and what to do.”

Gilbert joins an East Georgia State program that enjoyed a successful 2019-2020 season, with Warren Goosby earning the coach-of-the-year honor in the conference.

“I’m excited,” Gilbert said. “It feels like home already.”