After being limited in playing time last year for the West Orange High girls basketball team because of an injury, junior Ajalon “AJ” Gillard has been stepping up her game during the recent AAU season. Now Gillard is looking forward to the upcoming high school season.
When did you first get into basketball?
I first started taking it seriously when I was 7 or 8 years old. I was always in the gym, because my dad was a coach, ref, trainer and everything when we lived in Michigan, so I was always around it. I never was like, ‘Oh I’m going to play basketball.’ I was like, ‘No I don’t want to play basketball, ew,’ until I started playing at the YMCA and seeing him do his camps with other kids. I was like, ‘Oh this is fun.’ Getting to interact with other kids is what got me interested in getting better and actually trying to play ball.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in yourself since you first started playing basketball?
When I first started, I was a shooter, so I would always be the one to catch and shoot, and I never really was the attacker. My energy was always there — like I’m a leader on the floor, that’s where I mostly get my looks for — but this year, I worked more on my attacking, and my body down low and my defense and getting stronger. Now, it’s like I’m not only a shooter, but I can go off the dribble, I can do mid-range, and I work on both ends of the court. I can do anything, so my confidence is up there.
What was the AAU season like for you this summer during the pandemic?
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be — we still got to get our reps in. Going to some of the tournaments and having to wait outside for your games, being patient to get in the gym — that was the only frustrating part, but we still had a great season overall.
Was there anything you were trying to work on this season?
Definitely handling the ball more, because my last summer I had a lot of trouble with handling that pressure and being able to take over when I needed to and step my game up instead of just being a shooter. I worked a lot on handling the pressure.
What’s the hardest part about playing guard?
I really like my position, and I don’t really see any of it as being hard, because I’ve always been a 1 or a 2 . But the hardest would be having to handle that pressure and knowing when to slow it down and when to set up a play — knowing what play to run and what defense the other team is in.
Do you have a highlight moment during your time in basketball?
I would say growing with my teammates — creating a family bond and just having fun. It’s not only, ‘Are you developing yourself on the court?’ but (also) what you do on the court also plays off the court — you building a bond on the court. … I feel like that plays a big role in creating a family bond off the court, too.