CHICAGO HEIGHTS | T.F. South coach Steve Breshock was so impressed with Bloom Township's Bria Gaines, he called her most dominant player on the court.
And that was with Breshock holding the ball and Bloom winning 22-18. Gaines had 14 of her team's points and eight rebounds -- the only game she didn't record a double-double.
"She is the best post player we faced this year," Breshock said. "Great post presence. She is a threat anywhere from the elbow to the block."
The bad news for Breshock and other Bloom opponents is that Gaines has another year, and college coaches are taking notice of the 6-foot-2 star. She averaged 27.3 points and 16.3 rebounds per game in leading the Blazing Trojans to a 16-9 overall record.
For her outstanding season, Gaines is The Times Player of the Year.
Even Gaines was surprised at how well she performed.
"I knew I could play, but I never thought I would have this great of a year," Gaines said. "I just gained a lot of confidence over the summer."
The summer of 2011 is one she will not forget. In the heat of the Washington Elementary School gym, Bloom coach Ron Newquist, who is also her AAU coach with the Illinois Wolverines, made her work on her drop-step with a 6-pound medicine ball. While it seemed to hurt at the time, the medicine ball and her routine proved to be an elixir.
"There I was on the floor, dripping with sweat and hurting," Gaines said. "It was tough in the middle of summer, but I had to do it because I wanted to get better. I knew I had to get better because basketball is my life."
She went through a lot of drills to work not only on her shooting, but her strength, footwork and basketball skills.
"A lot of kids would have said: 'I'm going to the beach,' but not Bria," Newquist said. "That tells you how dedicated she is because a lot of kids would have not done what she did. She'd catch her breath, get a drink of water and go at it again.
"It worked because (before) where she could do the drop-step right one out of three times, she now gets it right almost every time."
She also worked with former Southern Illinois' Cici Shannon (Homewood-Flossmoor) and Illinois' Kersten Magrum (Lincoln-Way East), both post players.
"They really pushed me hard and they showed me how to play the post and how to get your positioning," Gaines said. "It was quite a summer."
Gaines has only been playing basketball since she was in seventh grade at Brookwood Junior High School in Glenwood. Her mother, Tara Stone, said it was a surprise because Bria had never shown an interest in basketball.
"She said, 'Mom, tryouts are tomorrow and I am going to try out,' I was kind of shocked," Stone said. "I think her first practice, she went the wrong way the first time out there. But she learned fast and she really has worked hard to get better."
Gaines said she doesn't recall if she ran the wrong way or not, but she said her parents -- Tara and Everett -- have been the moral support.
"Whatever I needed to do, they encouraged me," Gaines said. "They come to my games and my dad (Everett), he was there sitting on the floor at Washington watching me work out during the summer -- in all that heat."
Gaines said she will not rest on her recent success.
"I know I have to get better," she said. "That means putting in a lot of work over the summer and playing a lot of summer ball."