Devin Gilbert, Cascade junior, is the January Athlete of the Month. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Devin Gilbert, Cascade junior, is the January Athlete of the Month. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

January Athlete of the Month: Cascade’s Devin Gilbert

The junior forward had a breakout campaign while leading the Bruins to their best season in years.

The Cascade High School boys basketball program experienced a turnaround 2021-22 season.

After winning just six games over their previous three campaigns, including a 1-9 record in the shortened 2021 spring season, the Bruins turned a January surge into a near run to the state regionals this winter, falling one win shy of the program’s first appearance since 2016.

Cascade finished the season 10-11 — its highest win total since 2015-16 — on the strength of a 7-2 run from Jan. 7-Feb. 2.

And at the center of the Bruins’ success was a breakout season from Devin Gilbert.

The 6-foot-5 junior was a walking double-double for Cascade. He posted season averages of 22.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks. His performances included a trio of outings with 30 or more points and numerous 10-plus-rebound games.

“He was the major factor for us,” Bruins coach Shane Stenesen said. “… He was just highly effective (with his) back to the basket, as well as stepping out to 15 feet and then stepping out to the perimeter.”

Gilbert had a solid spring as a sophomore, but the way he refined his game heading into this season made him a true game-changer.

Stenesen said one of the biggest overall improvements from his standout forward was his shooting ability, which gave Gilbert the tools to be the type of true inside-out offensive threat teams covet.

“He kind of blossomed between his sophomore and his junior season,” Stenesen said. “… The amount of work that he puts in has completely changed. He’s kind of got a different attitude about it. I’m really, really anxious to see with one more offseason of work what he looks like in the fall.”

While shooting has been the biggest improvement in Gilbert’s game, the most eye-catching tool in his repertoire might be his dunking ability. Gilbert’s combination of height and leaping ability make him a threat to rise up for a highlight-reel dunk on any given night.

That high-flying capability was on full display during a opening round district game Feb. 8 against Lynnwood when Gilbert lept up in the air to secure a lob pass and threw down a two-handed slam over a Royals defender.

“In high school there are guys that can dunk the basketball, but it’s not something that you see consistently in a high school basketball game,” Stenesen said. “… He had quite a few of them.”

Along the way, Gilbert, who was voted as one of three team captains, stepped into a leadership role that complimented his productivity on the court.

“Off the court, he’s a great, high-character guy,” Stenesen said. “Our younger group (can) look up and they see him on the varsity team and they see the way he carries himself around the school and how he acts and takes practice very seriously. He fits that player that we want to have around the program so that the other guys realize this is a serious thing.”

One of Gilbert’s stellar performances came when he delivered 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bruins to a 75-70 win over Lynnwood on Jan. 7. It was the Bruins’ first win of the season and sparked their 7-2 run down the stretch. Gilbert was voted The Herald’s Athlete of the Week for his outing and went on to win the The Herald’s January Athlete of the Month voting by claiming 1,683 (47.9%) of 3,514 votes.

We recently caught up with Gilbert to talk about his breakout year and the Bruins’ turnaround season:

What did you do in the offseason to make such an improvement this year?

During the offseason it was practically just getting in work when you still can. With COVID going around, we didn’t have very many places opening up. Me and some of my teammates had workout sessions down at the YMCA down the street. … We’re basically just running through drills. It was just work to be honest.

Coach mentioned your improved outside shooting. Was that a big emphasis in the offseason?

Yeah. Last year my shooting percentages were pretty low. I think the first thing that my coaches said when we stepped in the gym was, ‘Devin, we’re going to get your shot better. We’re going to have you knock down 40 percent (from the field) and 70 percent on free throws.’ They really just worked with me and my shot, finishing at the rim and shooting on the perimeter. … It was about 500 shots a day, maybe 1,000 sometimes.

How rewarding was to be a part of helping this turnaround season for the team?

Oh, it was great. Over the years … seeing teammates come in and out of the program (and) people just talking bad about Cascade and saying we’re not very good, we just wanted to prove something this year. We wanted to prove that we were one of the top (Wesco) 3A/2A teams.

Was there something the team was doing execution wise that changed things after the slow start?

We (weren’t) really a passing team, and our coaches were talking to us and were like, ‘If you guys swing the ball, you guys will be such a great team.’ So we kind of took that to heart. We just worked on a bunch of plays in general. There was not one practice where we didn’t stop working on plays and swinging the ball.

What did it mean for you to be voted as a team captain?

It was heartwarming to feel that my teammates felt like I was prepared and ready for this captain spot. … It was really just all love. I love all those guys and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

What are your goals for basketball?

I’ve always wanted to go D-I, D-II or D-III, but wherever I go I just want to play the game. I love the game so much. Wherever I go, I’m just going to try and be the best competitor I can.

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