It’s no secret that new Missouri guard Katlyn Gilbert has spectacular talent. Despite injuries halting her true freshman and redshirt sophomore seasons, she showed flashes of promise that proved why she was a top-25/30 recruit in the class of 2018.
As fans discovered later, Gilbert left Notre Dame this past season due to pregnancy and later gave birth to a son, who was featured prominently in one of her Mizzou posts.
Statistics and injuries can only say so much about an athlete, and fans are quick to make assumptions over what’s written on paper. But what about who the person is? I had the privilege of speaking to a few of her former teammates and WNBA stars. Read what Dallas Wings guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, as well as Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young had to say about Mizzou’s newest guard.
Arike and Marina were seniors while Jackie was a junior when Kate joined the legendary Notre Dame women’s basketball team fresh off a national championship in 2018. Their time together only lasted a few months but Kate’s impact reached further than the little time they had together.
In basketball, your team is like a family. No matter what age you are, where you come from, whether or not you’re a veteran, freshman or transfer. A bond is formed that is hard to break. That’s how all three of the WNBA stars feel about Kate.
Being yourself is critical in forming bonds with your team. Kate had no issue with doing so according to Mabrey. “She’s a free spirit and embodies a ton of positivity,” she said. Even throughout her injuries, she remained positive. “When she was on the bench, she cheered. She continued to support the team wherever she could.”
For Ogunbowale, the bond felt like sisterhood. “She was like a little sister,” she said. “She was always supporting people and was super fun.” Arike’s excitement for Kate dives deeper than on the court or interpersonally. The excitement reaches to motherhood and second chances. Having a child can change a person’s life for the better and opens a new chapter full of second chances.
Young believes the same about Gilbert as a person. “She was definitely a good teammate and fun to be around. She brings a lot of energy.” Jackie recalls Kate as always being enthusiastic and doing everything she could for the team no matter the role she assumed.
The sentiments were nearly identical for the three of them. Kate was a supportive, fun, engaged and energetic person who poured her heart into the team on and off the court.
On the court
Notre Dame fans, and opposing fans for that matter, saw how dynamic Gilbert was in her healthy season in 2018. The 5’10 “big guard’ could do more than just run the point. Although they played different positions, Young taught Gilbert skills of a shooting guard that made her into a versatile combo guard. When you’re learning against a 6’0 eventual Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion with the Aces, as of September 18, you know you’ll learn valuable skills.
Mizzou finished dead last in the SEC last season in steals per game with 5.6. The leader for the Tigers last season was fellow point guard Mama Dembele, who ranked 19th with 44 total steals for an average of 1.4 per game. In the 2019-20 season, Gilbert recorded 61 total steals with her season high of six coming against Duke. A back court of Dembele and Gilbert on the defensive end will prove lethal with her activity on that end as Jackie recalled.
Gilbert scored 14 points off the bench against Gonzaga.
Arike emphasized her versatility but also how her height will impact Mizzou. The Tigers are in need of height. Although she’s 5’10, Kate crashes the boards in a pretty similar fashion to former Tiger, Aijha Blackwell. Will she be expected to fill in those huge shoes left by Blackwell? Probably not but she will be a crucial part in the rebound game. In the 2019-20 season, Gilbert gathered a season/career high eight rebounds against North Carolina and continued to grab a high number of boards throughout the season.
“She’s a big guard,” Arike, who stands 5’8, said. “I know she’s taller than me. She’ll be able to give them a little size at the guard position,” she said. Her skillset is unique, and according to Arike, Marina and Jackie, will complement Mizzou’s style of play and the challenge of the SEC.
Gilbert scored 19 in this game. For her specific highlights, see the 0:53-57, 1:57-2:01, 2:14-2:20, 2:45-2:50, 3:13-3:30, 4:40-4:44 and 7:06-7:11.
There is a lot of excitement around the nation for Mizzou’s newest guard for great reasons on and off the court. Her veteran leadership and experience against some of the NCAA’s greatest teams, will prove fruitful for the Tigers. Her infectious personality and fresh start can rally not only herself but the whole team and culture. Tiger fans have plenty of reasons to get excited.