PROVO — Most first-year freshmen take a while until becoming true contributors to their respective teams, while others surprise and make notable contributions sooner. As for Shaylee Gonzales, however, she's performing pretty much like BYU coach Jeff Judkins envisioned shortly after he started recruiting her to the Cougar women's basketball program about three years ago.
Considering what Gonzales is doing for the Cougars this season, saying it was largely expected is saying something.
The 5-foot-10 freshman from Gilbert, Arizona currently leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game while scoring in double-figures in all 10 games played this season. She's also second on the team in both assists (45) and in steals (25) while helping the relatively young Cougar basketball team to an 8-3 record on the early season, surpassing most preseason expectations.
"I told my other coaches here that when she signed she'd be the newcomer of the year in our league and that if she's not the MVP of our league by the time she leaves here it would be shocking," Judkins said. "She can rebound, she can pass, she can get to the basket and she's a gym rat. She has all the intangibles. She really reminds me of Andre Miller, someone I coached when I was at Utah."
Judkins first identified Gonzales during her freshman year playing for Mesquite High School and then offered her shortly after she performed at BYU's Elite Camp that following summer.
"I normally don't like offering players as early as we offered Shaylee, but she was a no-brainer for us after watching how she performed at camp," Judkins said.
Performing at a high level is something Gonzales has become used to since a very early age. She started playing competitive basketball at the young age of eight while learning the finer points of the game from her parents, Josh and Candice Gonzales, both of whom played collegiately at Grand Canyon University.
"They've coached me so well and I obviously owe so much to both of them," Gonzales said. "They started off playing me against older kids and I think that really helped me develop and I think that's helping me now compete as a freshman against girls who are obviously older than me."
Gonzales received other offers after Judkins came forward with BYU's, but rested on signing with the Cougars due to finding the program a perfect fit for her style of play and for its unique cultural aspects.
"I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so that was a big thing and I've loved it here so far," Gonzales said. "School is definitely challenging, but I really loved playing for (Judkins) and I love my team."
Gonzales didn't start immediately but has played at least 30 minutes per game in all but one game played this season.
In her first game, she scored 16 points and has improved her contribution steadily throughout the year, leading up to the Cougars' last game played against Colorado State on Dec. 15, where they slugged out a 51-42 win, the lowest team point total on the year. Ironically the game marked Gonzales' career-high in points, as she scored 29 points, providing a huge portion of BYU's offense.
"She's been great and she's going to continue to get better because of the drive she has. I don't worry about kids like Shaylee," Judkins said. "Her parents have done a great job helping her achieve a work ethic and drive that have really contributed into her being the player she is."5 comments on this story
As for Gonzales, she's certainly goal-oriented and appears well on her way on achieving most of her stated ones.
"I had a goal coming in that I wanted to be a starter. I had to work for it, but I accomplished that and now I want to become freshman of the year in the West Coast Conference, but the most important goals are the team goals we have," Gonzales said. "I love my teammates and we really push each other, but also work so well together. We definitely want to win conference and make the NCAA tournament."