Kelly Faris is something of folklore around the Heritage Christian (Ind.) girls basketball juggernaut, as the program’s first McDonald’s All-American and WNBA star, and a deciding factor in why Kaitlyn Gilbert chose to join the Eagles’ program for high school.
And the last couple of years, the Notre Dame-bound guard has had the opportunity to know her on a personal level, taking pointers from her on taking an increased defensive aggression, and being reminded of just how hard the next level of basketball will be.
And so, the magnitude of joining the Heritage legend and former UConn star as the program’s only McDonald’s All-Americans wasn’t lost on her.
“I’m just grateful for the experience,” Gilbert said following a small ceremony where she was presented her McDonald’s All-American jersey before nearly 70 friends and family. “To be one of only two at my school is crazy to me, it’s mind blowing. To be next to Kelly, who’s been a great role model, is outstanding to me.”
The 5-foot-10 Gilbert has been a domineering force in the Hoosier State since her freshman year, when she helped the Eagles claim the IHSAA 2A state title, then added a 3A title in 2016. She joins New Albany’s Romeo Langford on the boy’s side as the only Indiana residents to make this year’s All-American game.
As for the game itself, Gilbert looks forward to squaring up with her future Notre Dame teammate, Mary Louis Academy (N.Y.) guard Jordan Nixon; the two have never faced each other before, which should make this one of the more entertaining matchups to watch.
Gilbert first caught attention a half-decade ago when she verbally committed to the University of Evansville as a seventh-grader, before flipping her pledge to the Fighting Irish nearly two years ago. The spotlight is a familiar role for her by now, one that she’s embraced despite some of its thorns.
“Sometimes it can get overwhelming,” she said. “But I just thank God about the opportunity He’s given me, and I’m just excited at the same time.”
Just as Faris did years ago to a generation of future high school stars, Gilbert has embraced her role in the community as a role model and mentor.
“I try to be a role model to kids not only on the court, but how to act as an individual, and as a Christian and just to show little girls that not all basketball players have to be tomboyish,” she said. “They can be girls, too, and be good at basketball.”