Gilbert endures injury and ineligibility

Ben Goessling

The luster is gone, the predictions of stardom long forgotten, the glow dimmed by nearly two years on the brink of oblivion.

But Tanisha Gilbert is still here, and that is more than anyone – herself included – expected.

Gilbert, a forward on Minnesota’s women’s basketball team, won an appeal to have her scholarship reinstated. She will earn a full ride if she at least receives C’s in her two summer school classes, which ended last week.

And when the Gophers tip off the 2002 season on Nov. 7, Gilbert will make her first appearance since she was declared academically ineligible on January 17th, 2001, ending what had been a stellar freshman season.

After redshirting the 2001-2002 season because of a knee injury, Gilbert’s scholarship was revoked last spring by former women’s athletics director Chris Voelz for missing team study sessions and appointments with academic advisors.

But Gilbert’s grades improved markedly after initially being declared ineligible. The University ruled her missed study sessions and advising appointments were not enough to merit revocation.

Before her reinstatement, Gilbert contemplated transferring to a smaller school so she could receive a scholarship again, but she ultimately couldn’t leave the people who embraced her throughout her struggles.

“People here will come up and talk to you just because you play for the Gophers,” she said. “You don’t have to be the leading scorer to have their support. When I found out my scholarship was being revoked, I first thought, ‘I don’t want to deal with this’.

“But when I saw how much they cared, I thought ‘OK, I’m going to fight for this.'”

And a bond made with the other members of her recruiting class provided the rest of the fuel for her uphill battle.

“When we (Gilbert, Lindsay Whalen, Leslie Hill, Megan Kane, and Angel Leon) signed, we started calling ourselves the ‘Fab Five’,” she said. “We got together and made a pact that before we graduated, we would make it to the tournament.”

Leon and Kane have since left, but the fulfillment of the pact last season convinced Gilbert the team’s bright future was worth a struggle.

“We made it to the tournament last year, and we’re moving on to bigger things – Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four – those are our goals now,” she said.

Gilbert arrived at Minnesota in the fall of 2000 with much fanfare after a career at nearby Champlin Park High School marked by the school’s first state tournament appearance in 1999 and All-American honors in 2000.

Gilbert made good on the lofty expectations surrounding her in the first half of the 2000-01 season, averaging 14.7 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds in 14 games as a freshman.

But her academic struggles and injury problems left her waving a towel on the bench through the Gophers’ meteoric rise to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

And now Gilbert returns to the Minnesota lineup not as a prodigious superstar, but as an enigmatic veteran forced to funnel her contributions through the enormous presence of Whalen – the returning Big Ten Player of the Year – and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Janel McCarville.

The former golden girl, however, prefers to focus on the second word of the term role player.

“As long as I’m out on the floor, I’m OK with doing the little things,” she said. “The hype around this program isn’t what I was recruited to, so it’s all new for me. I’m just happy to get out there and play.”

She is no longer the savior. But her future was saved, and the glint of a championship trophy is still in her eye.

And for Tanisha Gilbert, the promise remains.

 

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]