Dreher girls basketball coach Teresa Jones knew talent wasn’t going to be an issue with Jhileiya Dunlap.
As an eighth grader, Jones witnessed Dunlap’s talent in her second varsity game and had a hunch she was going to be a special player. It was just the little things, such as work ethic and becoming a leader, that Jones tried to hammer into Dunlap.
Those things came full circle this season as Dunlap helped lead the Blue Devils to their third Class 3A title in five years.
“I am proud of the young lady she has become on and off the floor. I have been telling her since I had her in eighth grade about her work ethic and she finally listened. As a result, she had a stellar year. I think she is one of the top players I have coached,” Jones said. “She is a tremendous talent. I told her that along with the talent, if she just worked a little harder she would be one of the best, if not the best, to come out of Dreher High School. I think she has proven that.”
Dunlap called her final season her redemption. After losing in the Upper State title game against Lancaster as a junior playing much of that game in foul trouble, Dunlap vowed to her teammates not to let that happen this year.
As the final seconds wound down during the 2016 title game against Myrtle Beach, she expressed her gratitude to her teammates and coach.
“The thing I remember the most when we had a few seconds left and knew we had won, was hugging my coach and my teammates and telling them ‘Thank You,’” Dunlap said.
Dunlap averaged 19.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 steals and three blocks per game.
She finished with 1,665 points during her career and was named the South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, along with being The State’s Girls Basketball Player of the Year. The 6-foot-2 forward scored a career-high 37 points against Camden and pulled down a career-best 19 rebounds against Richland Northeast. She had a double-double in four of her final six games.
“It was my redemption year and I still can’t believe it is over,” Dunlap said. “I am still thinking about how long it took me to listen to my coach about my work ethic and things like that. I had to work hard to get this last state championship.”
Dunlap improved on becoming a vocal leader. She said she is very talkative and likes to cut up away from the court, but had trouble expressing those things on the court.
Jones said her star player came a long way in that area, and Dunlap was always encouraging her teammates during the game and when she was on the bench. No game personified that more than Dunlap’s performance in the Upper State title game.
Dunlap had a triple-double with 19 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks in the 51-49 win over Wren. She also came up with the game-sealing steal on Wren’s final possession.
“In that Upper State championship game, she truly had become a leader,” Jones said. “She wanted it so badly to redeem herself from the previous year. She put her teammates on her shoulders and led them to victory.”