In the auxiliary gym of The Barstow School, the varsity boys basketball team split into two groups on a weekday afternoon. Over the ensuing half hour, they engaged in a full-court scrimmage.
It featured one oddity. Assistant coach Jonathan Raney was in the middle of the action, assigned to play man-to-man defense against senior point guard Jacob Gilyard.
This is a regular thing.
“That’s the only guy who can even give Jacob a challenge,” coach Billy Thomas explained. “We have to at least try to make it hard for him.”
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A 5-foot-9 point guard who looks anything but menacing in stature, Gilyard has developed into arguably the toughest matchup in the city.
The numbers back it up. He is averaging 33.9 points per game this season.
The offensive repertoire was kept in hiding for the past three seasons, revealed only in times of necessity. With Barstow making three straight trips to the Missouri Class 3 state title game, Gilyard was simply one of “The Big Three.”
The Knights turned to forward Jeriah Horne as their top offensive weapon, and Shea Rush added another a unique challenge. But both are now with Division I college programs.
Their departures have warranted a shift from Gilyard. After three years serving as a facilitator and lock-down perimeter defender, he entered his senior season asked to carry the offensive load.
“You’re always just focused on the season and trying to do everything you can to win,” said Gilyard, who has signed to play at Richmond next year. “But in the back of my mind, I knew that looking ahead to my senior year, I would have to do a lot more.”
He responded with an early indication of his readiness. In only the fourth game of the season, he scored 50 points in a win against Washington.
And so it’s gone.
Gilyard has followed with another 41-point outing. His scoring output has more than doubled since his junior year, when he averaged 16.3 points per game.
“He’s always been a by-any-means-necessary kid for us, and he realized that in previous years, that meant being the guy to make things happen for his teammates,” Thomas said. “But now, we need him to do a lot more. A whole lot more.”
The word is out. As a reporter walked into Barstow on Wednesday, a request to interview a member of the basketball team was greeted with a sly response.
“Who do you want to talk with today — Jacob? Or Jacob? Or perhaps Jacob?”
The opposing teams have obviously received the message, too. Thomas says Gilyard has seen a box-and-one defense in all but one or two games this season. On one occasion, an opponent even tried a triangle-and-two approach — with both of the man-to-man roamers assigned to Gilyard. (He says he still managed to weave his way through the coverage and get a shot off.)
But somehow, he keeps scoring. And Barstow keeps winning. The Knights are 11-3, fresh off winning the St. Thomas Aquinas Tournament — which included victories against some of Kansas’ top-big class teams in St. Thomas Aquinas and Blue Valley.
“Teams are constantly trying to deny him the ball, but he’s so fast that he can still be a factor,” said Thomas, a former KU and NBA player who has used his own experiences as a high school player to devise some sets against the box-and-one defense.
It’s the ball-handling that separates Gilyard most, a skill he fine-tuned throughout his childhood. Gilyard says he was always in the “zero percentile” in height. That required creativity.
“You just have to know the game a lot more than most people do, because you have that disadvantage,” Gilyard said. “That just means I have to work a little bit harder than the other guy.
“Fine with me.”