Aryanna Gilbert knows the jokes are coming at her expense about her length of time on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball team.
A teammate said at a recent practice that the 5-foot-9 senior — who, like head coach Jim Foster, has been at UTC for five years — questioned why nobody has "checked her birth certificate" and alleged that Gilbert has been at UTC for "100 years."
"Not 100, but maybe 50," Gilbert said in response.
Yet her teammates are thankful for her presence on the court, especially for a team that is young and finding its way this season. They've leaned on her for scoring (11 points per game) and rebounding (7.5), with her totals leading the team through two games. It's a small sample size, but the four 3-pointers she has hit leave her four away from her career high — for a season.
She's doing everything she can to be a leader for the Mocs (0-2), who look for their first win of the season today at 5 p.m. at Stetson.
"Without Ary, we might have been shut out against Green Bay," junior guard Shelbie Davenport said recently. "Having her is amazing. Every day in practice she's the first one here: the first one on the floor; the last one off the floor. She's in the right position at all times; she knows where to be. You ask her a question, she has an answer, and she's a great asset for our team."
Gilbert scored all 10 of her points in the first 7:43 of the season opener against Green Bay, a 30-point loss. After that game Foster said he was "glad Ary got off the bus." She followed that up with 12 points in the one-point loss to Central Florida on Monday.
"I have to step up and come out strong, because they are looking at me as a leader and seeing how I'm playing, and it reflects on how they're going to play as well," she said. "So I come out strong and show the younger players that it is OK to shoot the ball and attack the basket, things of that nature."
On Monday the Mocs watched a lead they'd held for over 30 minutes of game time slip away against the Knights. Today is just the next step in the maturation process of the team, although its leader knows and has seen the benefits of the Mocs' typical brutal nonconference schedule.
"It's very beneficial," Gilbert said. "It gives us a lot of experience we'll need down the stretch and gives younger players time to adjust to and learn to play at the collegiate level. They're learning that it's a completely different game, and what they did in high school doesn't really matter anymore."
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