Frustrated opposing coaches yell, “Box out!”

The players listen. But it rarely works.

That same coaches will point at the scoreboard and chastise a referee because of all the fouls called against their team.

But Imani Gillette leaves opponents with few alternatives.

It’s a common sequence at Overbrook girls’ basketball games this season, ever since Gillette, a 5-foot-10 freshman, began her high school career by immediately establishing herself as one of the area’s best pure rebounders.

Gillette averages 17 points and 15 rebounds per game. And those numbers — stellar from her first game — have been trending upward.

Her first 20-rebound game didn’t come until Jan. 9. Three more 20-plus-rebound games followed in the seven games since, including a game on Jan. 25 in which Overbrook hosted Clayton, and Gillette generated 27 points and 21 rebounds.

“It’s been a great experience — coming in as a freshman, I just trusted my teammates and I trusted myself,” Gillette said.

Gillette driving against Bordentown's Aja Reeves (left) and Oshynn Cosom (center) in a January game.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Gillette driving against Bordentown's Aja Reeves (left) and Oshynn Cosom (center) in a January game.

Gillette added that when most see her play for the first time, they come expecting to see a 6-foot-6 giant plucking rebounds down from around the rim.

But it’s not height that sets Gillette apart. It’s strength — and even more than that, according to Overbrook coach Ken Siano, it’s sheer will.

“That’s something we talk about every day: You have to want to get 20 rebounds in a game,” Siano said, “It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t just happen regardless of how talented you are. And those are the qualities that really separate her as a player.”

When Gillette talks about the biggest difference between playing basketball in eighth grade and playing in high school, she points to the physicality. It’s ironic because that’s the area of her game that has appeared to be the easiest transition.

She’s naturally strong. It was the first thing Siano noticed when he first coached Gillette — in shot put on a middle school track and field team.

That was before Gillette had even started playing organized basketball.

Although she’s been practicing with her three brothers most of her life — and always loved the game — eighth grade was Gillette’s first year on an organized basketball team. Her rise ever since has been remarkable.

She’s already playing for the prestigious Philly Freedom Stars AAU team, and her Overbrook team, winner of six of its first 16 games, has already doubled its victory total from last season.

“That was really my goal when I came here,” Gillette said.

Gillette is averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Gillette is averaging 17 points and 15 rebounds.

When she talks about where she can go from here, Gillette recognized that there still are areas for improvement. She talks about making more free throws, developing her outside shot. She has battled foul trouble at points this season — and she’ll clean up that as well — during those rare moments when she actually looks like a freshman.

Siano said Gillette’s willingness to work hard, and her willingness to be coached, has her poised to be more than just an overpowering, dominant athlete. He sees her as a well-rounded basketball player.

He’s excited to watch her develop her skills, and like most in the area, he can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

Gillette echoes those sentiments. She can see herself playing in college, and she even lists pro basketball among her goals.

“My goal is to get 1,000 points by my junior year,” she said. “I can feel my confidence going up every game. I know I just have to keep working hard and keep getting stronger.”