Gators 2.0: Wilson, LeBlanc lead new generation of contenders

Published 8:00 am Friday, June 24, 2022

After watching the Gators win a state basketball title as freshmen and helping the Gators earn a district title as sophomores, LaGrange juniors Katelynn Wilson and Kylei Leblanc are set to take starring roles this season.

Wilson started hooping in middle school with no experience, trying out only to accompany a nervous friend who wanted to play.

“I liked the mental part of it,” Wilson said. “It was a challenge to understand and I like trying to solve challenges. I did better than I expected, but I wasn’t all that when I first started. I didn’t think I was good until I got to high school.”

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Wilson said she still enjoys the mental side of the game.

“Sometimes I have to control things and I like that,” she said. “I’m trying to improve my ball handling and shooting. Defense is my favorite part of the game. When you steal the ball and start a fast break, it is so intense.”

Defense is also Leblanc’s calling card.

“I like defense too,” she said. “It’s not as difficult as offense and we’re a good defensive team. My strength is blocking shots. I’m a good rebounder. I’m working on being more consistent and being more confident in myself.”

Leblanc has learned to love the game over the years.

“I started playing when I was seven but didn’t like it,” she said. “I wanted to quit but my parents wouldn’t let me. I really enjoy it now. When we don’t have practice or a game I don’t know what to do with myself.

“I started enjoying it more when I got here to LaGrange. The chemistry on the team was better; I bonded with the coaches and they have made it more fun. Last year’s team had a good bond.”

The duo said they are eyeing a return trip to the state tournament after being freshmen on LaGrange’s 2021 state championship team.

Wilson knows there is work to do first.

“I really want to go back to state, but I have to take things step-by-step,” she said. “I have to grow from each game. I just want to improve and be a better player.”

Leblanc said the stars of that championship team, which included college players Jeriah Warren, Deja Tanks and Aasia Sam, taught the younger players how to succeed.

“I learned that you have to work hard for what you want, you have to put extra work in,” Leblanc said.

Gator head coach La’Keem Holmes said the duo bring a lot to the table.

“I love the energy they play with and they are both versatile players,” he said.

“Katelynn is able to play wing and guard, handle the ball or play off it. Kylei can score from almost any place on the court, runs the floor well and has nice touch from the perimeter and around the rim.

“Their versatility allows us to do so many things offensively. Defensively, both of them can guard one through five and allow us to switch screens and play our style of defense.”

Holmes said the duo have yet to realize how good they can be.

“The talent is there, the work ethic is there, but the confidence on their part needs to come,” he said. “I can believe all I want, I see flashes of what I know is there. As they grow in their roles, become more confident and they begin to see and believe, then the sky’s the limit. They have been around some talented players here at LaGrange and they are adding to that pool.”