Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ALBANY -- While playing for Gulf Coast Community College last season, Dominique Gilbert had a view of the beach.

The former Monroe High School star's view while playing basketball, however, was mostly from the bench. Fed up after last season, she came back home and began her career anew at nearby Darton College.

From the time Gilbert stepped onto the floor against Faulkner College, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds in the season opener, her view these days has been a close-up of the basket. Making up for a post presence the Cavaliers had been lacking in recent memory, the 6-foot Gilbert was named a NJCAA Women's Player of the Week and is the team's leading scorer averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds, along with two blocks, steals and assists.

In her mind, there is no place like home.

"It's truly different from what I experienced last year," said Gilbert, whose team hosts defending region tournament champion Middle Georgia at 5:30 p.m. today. "I learned a lot (at Gulf Coast), but I'm glad to be home."

Gulf Coast, which is ranked No. 1 in the country, played Gilbert for fewer than five minutes per game. While watching from the bench, however, she never lost her confidence.

"I never thought about quitting," Gilbert said. "The coaches at Gulf Coast said I wasn't applying myself, but I didn't see it that way. I felt like I was as good as any post player she had on the team."

Encouraged by her mother to attend Gulf Coast because of Lady Commodores coach Roonie Scovel's constant contact with the family, Gilbert spurned Darton's desire to recruit her and headed to Florida.

Even Darton women's coach Laura Blackwell, though, was taken aback at Gilbert's lack of playing time at Gulf Coast, but she also had a suspicion as to why.

"I was a little surprised she didn't play that much, they have their program up there, highly ranked year after year," Blackwell said. "It was nothing against Dominique, but I think it was mainly due to her high school preparation. After going to Gulf Coast, I think she learned a lot from practicing there and so forth.

"Her work habit was a little different at Monroe than it than what they have down there," she added. "Here, she keeps the same intensity and elevates her game and enjoys the game."

It did not take Gilbert long to reconsider Darton after last spring's semester was over.

"I knew Coach Blackwell still wanted me to play for her, so I asked if I could come," Gilbert said.

Blackwell's chance to welcome her could not come quickly enough.

"She was just so talented at Monroe, I knew she could really do well in our league and be a presence on the court," Blackwell said. "I just made sure we kept in touch and was always there just in case she wanted to come back home and play."

Maximizing her ability due to more playing time was one challenge. Gaining the confidence she could compete with other quality players was another. Slowly, but surely, however, Gilbert became so established under the basket that she's confident to take her game outside the paint.

"Against Atlanta Metro (which beat Darton, 50-49), she even made a couple of 3-pointers," Blackwell said. "She's added a different dimension to our game."

Gilbert, meanwhile, stays even keel. Shy and demure off the court, she seems to flip a switch at tip-off and become a key player, which is far from she was at last year.

"I just listen to what the coaches say and do what I've got to do," Gilbert said.

Gilbert doesn't seem to mind since she is enjoying basketball again.

"I've just felt comfortable playing," Gilbert said. "Once I felt comfortable, I just play my game."