No more Wild Child

Megan Gilbert has been in her share of trouble before. And her name is still associated with it, only now it’s the kind she causes opposing teams.

Gilbert, a 5-7 senior guard, has the South Kitsap girls basketball team off to its best start in years as the Wolves entered Friday night’s Narrows League Bridge Division game at Bremerton with a 6-2 overall record.

But the success the team is having this year is a direct reflection of the success she’s been enjoying the last few years since transforming herself from a troublemaker to a trouble causer.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Gilbert says of her favorite sport. “It keeps me out of trouble. I don’t even know how I started playing basketball. But I know I love the game now.”

Actually, the former soccer player and Port Orchard native does know how it all happened. She first tried her hand at roundball in seventh grade at Marcus Whitman after a friend suggested she try out.

It wasn’t long after that Gilbert was playing varsity ball.

She would never spend much time at the junior varsity level. As a sophomore, she bounced between JV and varsity and last year, as a junior, she was one of the first players coming off of coach Mike Allen’s bench.

“Megan is a character,” Allen said. “She’s improved basketball-wise a lot in the time I’ve been with her. But I think more than that, probably, is her ability to control her emotions, that’s probably the biggest growth I’ve seen out of her.

“She’s a fun player to coach because she’s got a lot of natural skills,” Allen said. “Every player is unique, and Megan is extra-unique. In a good way though.”

But a lot had happened before.

Gilbert admits to stirring up some trouble in her past. She used to trash other people’s property for the sake of just doing it. She even got arrested once, although the charges were later dropped.

But playing ball changed all of that and gave her a second chance of sorts.

“Basketball just kept my head in the books,” Gilbert said. “I’ve just been trying to work hard at school and at basketball. And staying out of trouble, which is what I like.

“Past things that happened weren’t so good,” Gilbert said. “And I just gotta think that basketball is my out. When I’m not feeling good, I just go shoot a basketball and forget about everything.”

Her reputation as a wild child was well known, as Allen soon found out. He noticed that all the junior high games he went to, Gilbert never seemed to be on the floor.

“My biggest experience with Megan before she came up here was watching her on the bench,” Allen said. “She was always out (of a game). Every time I went out to see her it was an injury, or it was grades or it was trouble or whatever. She was always out. So I never really actually watched her play before she came up here. I just heard about her.”

But since then Allen has liked what he’s seen.

Gilbert leads the Wolves in scoring at 13 points a game and also leads the team in steals, with just under three a game. And her intensity on defense is what gets everyone going.

“When we start playing, I get really fired up,” Gilbert said. “And I do feel like some people feed off of my energy. It kind of seems like we all feed off of each other. I get pumped up a lot. One good play gets me fired up.”

She’s had plenty of those this year. She is usually the most intense player on the floor and will stop at nothing to get the job done.

But it’s kind of surprising defense would become her forte.

“As the team plays defense, Megan goes,” Allen said. “And that’s not to say she’s just a follower because she does lead in her game. She steps up when the team is really playing defense and I don’t think she knows that necessarily. But when we’re playing defense, she’s more effective.”

Which is a surprise to her, since she had never liked playing on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, Allen finds it ironic that he’s named her the defensive player of the game twice already this year, noting that for her to win the award just once this year would have been a stretch.

“I suck at defense. I never wanted to play it,” Gilbert said. “And now I’m working at it.

“I’m not really offensively driven right now,” she said. “I just want to play defense a lot more. But now I’m starting to think if no one’s going to shoot the ball, I will. I’ll score the rock.

“(Allen) told me I needed to step up, shoot the ball more and score,” Gilbert continued. “I told him I’m willing to do that, so this is where I’m at now.”

She’s also in another place she never thought she would be – at peace with herself. And in more ways than she can count.

“I think about a lot of things when I’m playing basketball because it’s the only opportunity I’ve got,” Gilbert said. “I wouldn’t be doing good in school if basketball didn’t require certain grades. I think about a lot of things right before game time, and that right there just gets me pumped up and gets me to try my best.”

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