'Wear you out': Deep and talented Pana girls basketball led by senior all-stater

Bill Welt
State Journal-Register
Jillian Hamilton

RIVERTON — Pana senior Jillian Hamilton can score in a number of ways. 

The Panthers also have a bevy of other weapons to go to besides the guard/forward.

Suffice to say, stopping Pana’s potent offense is a colossal challenge. 

“I think we have a very unselfish team,” Pana coach Brent McKinney said. “Obviously, Jillian’s pretty consistent with her scoring, but after that, second, third or fourth (leading scorers) are usually different kids. It’s just kind of who’s got the hot night or who’s got the matchup they can take care of.  

“It’s kind of fun to watch.” 

BALANCED OFFENSE 

Hamilton picked up two quick fouls against Deer Creek-Mackinaw in the game’s first three minutes and begrudgingly went to the bench for the remainder of the frame Monday. 

The Panthers (15-1) still raced to a 15-0 lead en route to a 68-32 victory over the Chiefs in the Lady Hawks Christmas Classic opener at the Hawk Center. 

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Nine players made significant contributions in the first half, including Hamilton’s replacement, senior forward Kiley Ladage. She scored four of her six points in the first quarter and finished with a team-high seven rebounds. 

“A lot of teams don’t go that deep,” McKinney said. “For us to go that deep, that’s to our advantage — wear you out, wear you out. The kids are sold on what their job is and it might be only a two- or three-minute spurt, but they come in and do what they’re supposed to do — not turn it over and play solid defense and take it from there.” 

TAKING CONTROL 

Hamilton took over at the start of the second quarter.

The 5-foot-10 standout converted all three 3-point attempts in the period and led the Panthers with 16 points.  

“Usually when that happens I get pretty mad,” Hamilton said of sitting out with foul trouble. “When I get upset during games, I tend to play a lot harder. The frustration helps me get going and it really paid off this game to help the team get going more.” 

She shot 5-of-12 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3-point range. 

“I’m usually more of an inside shooter, but today I guess they wanted to fall,” Hamilton said of the 3s. 

ALL-STATE CALIBER 

Hamilton exhibited a crisp shooting motion. She uses her volleyball talents to elevate and delivers a picturesque arch at any range. 

McKinney described her form as a nice, fundamental shot. 

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Last season, she averaged 16 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.3 steals and one block per game to become a Class 2A Illinois Basketball Coaches Association all-state selection. Hamilton, who wants to play both volleyball and basketball collegiately, surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season. 

“She’s a good 3-point shooter,” McKinney said. “She’s a girl who can shoot an old-school jump shot. Sometimes you don’t see that a whole lot on the girls’ side, but she elevates very nicely on her shot. She can hit her 3, she can knock down her pull-up, she can beat you with her back to the basket, so there’s different ways that she can score.” 

Hamilton can move into the post against smaller defenders and largely defends the frontcourt herself. 

Hamilton said people like to describe her as a shooter and defender. 

“I love playing defense,” Hamilton said. “It’s very tiring, but I love playing defense and getting those steals – just knowing that I have to guard the best player on the floor and knowing that I can stop her.” 

McKinney said Hamilton can be especially crafty in Pana’s zone press. 

“I kind of put her in what I call the center field spot,” McKinney said. “She does a great job of reading that pass and she almost kind of sometimes baits you – the old Deion Sanders. It looks like you’ve got somebody there and she’s really good at that angle there. And then we have length and speed in front of that.” 

LONG HISTORY TOGETHER 

Hamilton is among seven seniors on the team. That includes starters Lainey Hicks (forward), Rachel Holthaus (point guard) and Ellie Kuhn (guard/forward).  

Hamilton, Holthaus, Kuhn, Ladage and fellow starting junior guard Anna Beyers all played together at Sacred Heart prior to high school and twice finished IESA state runner-up behind West Lincoln-Broadwell. 

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Pana's only loss this season also just happens to be against Kloe Froebe and Lincoln.

But the Panthers subsequently edged perennial power Teutopolis 39-38 in overtime on Dec. 6. McKinney said that win in particular provided a major boost to the team’s confidence. 

“It’s been a fun ride so far,” McKinney said. 

Contact Bill Welt: bill.welt@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/BillWelt