Transferring to a mid-major after playing basketball for an ACC school may seem to some like a downgrade, but Marist College forward Alana Gilmer disagrees. After playing a year at Virginia Tech, Gilmer decided the big school atmosphere did not compare to the small Catholic high school where she previously played basketball with her best friends. Coming to the realization that playing at the biggest name school was no longer a priority, Gilmer came to Marist hoping to find a place where she would be able to develop her talents on and off the court.
Going into her freshman year at Virginia Tech, Gilmer knew she was not going to get a lot of playing time right away. When the season actually started, it was a tough adjustment for her.
“Having accolades in high school and not playing that much is kind of a shocker for a lot of student athletes,” Gilmer said.
While playing for Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree, Massachusetts, Gilmer received much recognition. To start, she helped her team win two Division III State Titles. In the title game of her senior year, she led her team with 18 points in the win.
Gilmer averaged 18.1 points and six rebounds during her senior year. She scored 1,458 career points for Archbishop Williams, where she began playing on the Varsity team in seventh grade. Throughout her high school career, Gilmer was MVP of her conference, a nominee for the McDonald’s All-American team, a member of the Boston Globe All-Scholastic team and a 15th ranked wing in her recruiting class by ESPN.
As a Hokie, Gilmer played in 21 games. She scored 21 points during the span of the entire season compared to her average of 18 points per game the year before.
“It was hard sitting and working hard in practice and not being able to help your team,” Gilmer said. “I felt like, ‘Oh Coach must not need me. He must think I’m not that good.’ I felt like my confidence did drop a little bit.”
Despite the frustration of not being able to contribute to her team’s success as she had hoped, Gilmer was not discouraged and kept working hard.
“My family kept me going saying things like, ‘Hey Alana, keep working hard and it will pay off,’” Gilmer said. “It didn’t affect my drive. I was focused on what I needed to do to be able to play.”
Gilmer’s father, George Gilmer, has guided her throughout her basketball career. Having played basketball at Westfield University and earning all-conference honors, George first introduced Alana to the game when she was five years old. While she developed her skills through AAU and travel leagues, Alana was always coached by her father.
“He still coaches me to this day. I have to tell him to chill a little bit because he can get a little rowdy,” Gilmer said while laughing. After every game Alana will get a text from her father wanting to discuss what she needs to improve on. “I get that text, and he’s like, ‘Call me,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh God.’ If I don’t call him I get the question marks.”
Even though Gilmer jokes about her father’s support, she is grateful for his advice and values his feedback.
“Our games are a lot alike,” Gilmer said. “I feel like he knows exactly my game, how I can tweak it and adjust.”
In addition to the lack of playing time at Virginia Tech, Gilmer was also missing the tight relationships that she had in high school. When asked if she had a positive experience with her coaches and teammates as a Hokie, Gilmer responded with an emphatic “no.”
“At Virginia Tech it was; what do you have to do to stay eligible? What can you do to help this team? It was; what more can you give us?” Gilmer said about her coaching staff.
When Gilmer decided to transfer out of the ACC school, Marist College, who recruited her in high school, was at the top of her list.
“Even when I was committed to Virginia Tech, the coaches at Marist were still checking in on me and seeing how I was doing,” Gilmer said. “That always stuck to the back of my mind.”
Gilmer loved the Marist campus and academics, but the winning program also attracted her to become a Red Fox.
“I knew how successful the program was, how successful coach Giorgis has been,” Gilmer said. “He knows how to win.”
Once arriving to Poughkeepsie, Gilmer knew within her first week that she had made the right decision to leave Virginia Tech. She made fast friends with her teammates Maura Fitzpatrick, Rebekah Hand and Hannah Hand. Although only meeting her teammates on Monday, she invited them home with her to meet her family the following Friday for her birthday. Gilmer’s family thought they had known each other for a couple of years because of how well they appeared to know each other.
“I was like no, we actually met a couple days ago,” Gilmer said. “I knew that these girls were just caring. It was just not what I was used to at Virginia Tech. It was a complete change of feel.”
The team’s chemistry has only grown since then, as the girls do pretty much everything together.
“We can count on each other. We can talk to each other about anything,” Gilmer said of her teammates. “Everybody’s homes are always open to one another.”
In the beginning of this season, the team was so close that teammates were hesitant to criticize each other in fear that it would affect their relationships.
“It is a great thing to be that close, but at the same time it also comes with ‘Oh I don’t want to say something negative because then she will be mad at me,’” Gilmer said. However, the team learned how to push each other throughout the season. “We needed to say things to each other and accept criticism and take accountability for when we make our mistakes.”
Gilmer also noticed a difference in coaching style compared to Virginia Tech.
“The coaches here at Marist are much more personable. They really care about your well- being,” Gilmer said. She also believes that Coach Brian Giorgis helps her game with his emphasis on the mental side of the game. “He picks at small details that can really help you. He makes us really think while we are playing, which is a lot different. I think we play better because he challenges us mentally.”
Giorgis said that the mental side of the game for Alana is focusing on confidence and having her move on after a mistake. Giorgis felt her transition into the team’s dynamic went well, but he wanted to see her be more authoritative on offense.
“We actually have had to prod her to be more assertive offensively because she probably is one of our top two offensive threats,” Giorgis said.
One adjustment the coaching staff wanted to fix was her shot release.
“We wanted to get her shot to be quicker,” Giorgis said. “We actually liked where it was coming out of high school. I guess at Virginia Tech they changed her shot and it’s been a hard process to get it back to where it was.”
Even though she was glad to have a connection with her teammates and coaches, Gilmer still had to wait a year to be able to play with them.
“I had to keep telling myself that it is not going to last forever. It was just one year,” Gilmer said about having to redshirt during the 2016-2017 season.
“My teammates were supportive, but nobody was going through what I was going through,” Gilmer said. That was until guard Grace Vander Weide came to Marist as a mid-season transfer.
“When Grace came that is when the light turned on. I was like, ‘Finally somebody who understands what I am going through.’”
Gilmer and Vander Weide connected because of their shared experience and have since become close friends, referring to each other as “step-sisters.”
“We go at each other on and off the court, always teasing each other,” Gilmer said about their relationship. “But I love her to death. We are so close.”
Even though Gilmer had been practicing with the team for a year, it took her awhile to readjust to the pace of game speed and getting used to playing with her teammates who had all been playing together while Gilmer was redshirting.
“I was kind of stuck into the middle of it and had to figure out what everyone does and get back to the flow of things, which took a little bit of time,” Gilmer said.
Once she did get back into the swing of things, Gilmer felt the team’s chemistry on the court begin to flourish.
“We can just look at each other and we know what we are going to do,” Gilmer said. “I know when I’m driving and Bekah is in the corner, I know she is looking for me to pass it so she can shoot it. I feel like we really know each other. We know our tendencies.”
Gilmer had a successful first season with the Red Foxes and was a large part of the team’s successful 20-14 season that ended in a WNIT berth. She averaged 15.8 points per game, which ranked fifth in the MAAC. Gilmer was awarded second team All-MAAC, and All-Met third team, an honor that is voted by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, and was named MAAC player of the week in January.
“I mean it’s awesome to get an accolade, but I feel like there is a lot more room for improvement,” Gilmer said. “I feel like I can do a lot better. I have some things that I need to work on.”
For Giorgis, he would like to see Gilmer focus on the defensive side, “We have gotten on her case about her defense in terms of intensity and aggressiveness.”
Gilmer has a very similar mentality as her father. No matter how well she plays in a game, she is always thinking about what she needs to do in order to get better.
“I am very much a perfectionist. I think about things a lot,” Gilmer said. “I am very critical. No one’s perfect, but I like things to be perfect.”
Giorgis agrees that Gilmer is a perfectionist and can be tough on herself. “Alana knows that sometimes she is her own worst enemy,” Giorgis said, “Being not perfect happens, it’s about what happens after the mistake.”
Since coming to Marist, Gilmer has had a lot of what she loved about basketball return from her high school years: teammates who are like family to her, coaches who care about her as a person and a player and a role that fits her skillset. However, there is one thing that has been missing so far: a championship.
“I had so much joy. It was like nothing else mattered. All the hard work all season long paid off,” Gilmer said about winning her high school title her senior year, which she would watch on repeat. “That championship feeling lasts for a pretty long time. Winning a championship is a pretty great feeling. That’s what we are searching here at Marist.”