Kenai senior gives lesson on basketball's intangibles

Life of Reilly

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Kenai Central High School senior Jessi Reilly plans on being an accountant, a career revolving around numbers.

That's interesting, because her high school basketball career did anything but revolve around digits.

Need a ballhawking and annoying defender that's going to rack up steals? That's Reilly. Need a point guard to break down the press and make the offense run smoothly? Reilly again. But need somebody itching to hoist up an elbow-numbing number of shots in search of a high scoring average? Then look somewhere else.

"She's been an all-region player two years in a row averaging four points per game for us," Kardinals coach Jim Beeson said. "This year, I think she was one of the top three vote-getters for all-region.

"Other people see what she does for this basketball team. It's not just us."

Reilly's value to the Kardinals, who finished up their season Friday at the state tournament in Anchorage, is as a ball-handler, defender and leader.

Her abilities as a defender and ball-handler came from her genes, then were polished off with solid middle- and high-school coaching.

"My sister, Jessi's aunt, was a big basketball player at (the University of Alaska Anchorage)," said Mike Reilly, Jessi's father. "She played point guard, just like Jessi.

"They never played with each other, but (Jessi's aunt) was big on defense and a great passer. Being a point guard runs in the family."

Speaking of "family" and "runs," that's pretty much all Jessi did as a child growing up in Nikiski with all her cousins. It helps to explain why Reilly can play continuous pressure defense for 32 minutes.

"My goal when I was younger was always to keep up with Josh," Jessi said of her cousin Josh Reilly, a junior at Nikiski High School who led the Bulldogs to a small-schools state football championship in the fall.

Reilly then gave credit to her coaches for turning her into the player she is today.

Reilly's middle-school coaches Tim Sandahl and Ken Felchle gave her the fundamentals, then Jung, now retired, gave her the chance to apply fundamentals to varsity basketball her freshman and sophomore years.

"I think most of being good at the varsity level is getting experience at the varsity level," Reilly said. "He gave me the chance to start as a freshman. Getting that experience helped a lot."

Reilly said when Beeson took over for Jung during her sophomore year, it came at a time where she had enough experience to start leading the team.

Reilly did some leading her junior year, but there were other seniors to carry some of the leadership load. This year, as the only senior, Reilly flourished as the team's leader.

A measure of her value to the team came last week in practice as Kenai was preparing for state. As the Kardinals A-team worked against a half-court trap, Beeson continually shuffled players in and out of the A-team over the course of 20 minutes so all the players could learn their roles.

However, during the whole time the one player never shuffled out was Reilly. Each time, the drill started with the ball in her hands.

"We need her on the floor to be a good basketball team," Beeson said. "The great thing is she can go hard for 32 minutes, so she doesn't have to come off the floor."

Character makes Reilly the leader she is.

"She's always been a person that's easy to get along with," Mike Reilly said. "Jessi doesn't rub anybody the wrong way."

Added Reilly's mother, Susan Peterson: "She likes other people and cares about them. She's always wanting to help others. When other parents say they'd love to have Jessi as their daughter, it makes me appreciate the child that I have."

One measure of that came with the outpouring of support Reilly received at Senior Night this year.

"Everybody was all done crying and wiping the tears away, and we were ready to play ball," Reilly said. "I looked over in the stands and saw Mr. Jung just bawling, so then I had to go over there and give him a hug.

"That night was pretty special."

So was the third-place game at the Region III/4A tournament in Kodiak, where Kenai put together one of its best performances of the season and beat Palmer to qualify for state.

"We didn't want that to be her last game," said Kenai junior Erica Shinn.

Now that basketball's over, Reilly, who also is a football cheerleader in the fall, will exchange the her court shoes for her cleats.

"I've played soccer since I was 6 years old," said Reilly, who was a second-team all-region player in soccer last year. "Soccer's my fun sport. In basketball, if you lose the ball it costs you two points. In soccer, you can run and get it back again."

In school, Reilly manages a 3.7 grade point average while taking time to be the vice president of the senior class and the vice president of the National Honors Society.

"When she sets a goal, she's not afraid to work at it," Peterson said. "When she was in gymnastics, she would always try for a 10. On tests, she always wants to get 100 percent."

Although Reilly will soon be gone from Kenai Central, she will not be forgotten.

"As far as all-around good kids, I don't know of anyone who's done it any better," Beeson said. "Girls teams here from now on are going to hear a lot of Jessi Reilly stories."

Reilly said she would like to go to the University of Alaska Anchorage to study accounting. She also would like to make the basketball team as a walk-on.

Whether it's accounting or basketball, it looks like Reilly will have to keep coming up with clutch performances in March.

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