It might have been the most unselfish play she made during a season in which the natural point producer made it a point to emphasize team.
For the benefit of a teammate, Skyler Jessop passed up her shot.
Instead of accepting the opportunity to start, again, something she's done on varsity since late in her freshman season, the Grayslake Central senior benched herself.
On senior night, against Woodstock North on Feb. 4, Jessop and fellow senior captain Claire Brennan told coach Steve Ikenn that either of them was willing to start the game on the bench since six seniors meant one girl would not be able to start. (A seventh senior, Colleen Daly, missed the entire season due to an ACL injury).
"Then Skyler looked at me," Ikenn said. "She said, 'Why don't you let me not start? Claire's our point guard.' ... That's the kind of kids both of them are."
So, the Rams' starting five consisted of Brennan, Emma Shepard, Beth Arnold, Michelle Lettenmair and Sarah Kuligowski. Shepard and Arnold also started all season.
Jessop relinquishing her starting spot meant her backup, Kuligowski, could start. It was Kuligowski's first varsity start.
"I figured it was not a big deal for me because I've started a lot (during my career)," Jessop said. "I think (Kuligowski) liked it. ... She thanked me."
It was a good omen for Kuligowski. The 5-foot-5 guard went on to win the Class 3A 3-point contest downstate.
"I'll take credit for it," Jessop joked.
Jessop also advanced downstate in the Queen of the Hill competition. It was the capper on a season that saw her lead the Rams to the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division championship, Class 3A Wauconda regional championship, berth in the title game of the St. Viator sectional and 26 wins in 32 games.
It was all impressive enough, considering she was the only returning starter on a squad that advanced to the supersectional last season, that the 5-foot-9 guard is the captain of the Daily Herald's Lake County All-Area girls basketball team.
"Going into the season, I figured we'd be about .500," Jessop said. "I knew we had a lot of potential, but I didn't know if we'd reach that potential."
Jessop did everything she could to ensure the Rams would be successful again. She averaged 13.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 3 steals per game, while shooting 34 percent (38 of 111) from beyond the arc and 76 percent from the foul line.
"Her scoring average could have been a lot higher," Ikenn said. "But we preached running a balanced offense."
When the calendar flipped to February, with the state tournament approaching, Jessop picked up her game. Starting with a career-high 27-point effort against FVC Valley champ Cary-Grove, she averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and an amazing 7.6 steals per game. Against Cary-Grove in the Rams' regular-season finale, her clutch baskets and forced jump ball in the final 30 seconds helped force overtime.
"She is a great leader and has a tremendous ability to come through in the clutch," Ikenn said. "If a game was close, Skyler would routinely play all 32 minutes and often saved her best for the fourth quarter."
Jessop saved her best varsity season for her final one.
A late-January call-up during her freshman year, she produced a pair of double-digit point games that season and earned starts down the stretch in helping the 18-win Rams advance to the regional final. She was Grayslake Central's only sophomore starter the following season, earned all-area honors and helped the team win 19 games before a regional-opening loss to St. Viator.
A veteran squad surrounded her last season and, under first-year coach Ikenn, the Rams went 28-4. Jessop made all-area again.
She wasn't about to have any regrets her senior season. She was always upbeat, always scrappy. She worked hard, whether she had the ball or did not, and always made sure her teammates on the court were involved.
In a win over Deerfield on Jan. 30, she surpassed 1,000 career points.
"I thought I stepped up as a leader, on and off the court," said Jessop, the youngest of four children (two boys) of Tom and Theresa. "We Grayslake Central girls have been playing together for so long and this was our last year. I embraced that and wanted to show the underclassmen that, win or lose, you should be having fun out there."
Hope, Wisconsin-Whitewater and North Park have expressed interest in Jessop, a good athlete who will be starting her fourth varsity season for Grayslake Central's soccer team this spring. All three colleges are quality academic institutions, but none compete at the Division I level.
"I think schools are missing the boat on Skyler," said Ikenn, who believes his 1,136-career point player can play at a high level. "She's such a great all-around player."
And an unselfish one.
Grayslake Central High School
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