Grayslake Central was in good hands with Bullman
Long before she knocked down a triple and even longer before she posted a triple-double, Kate Bullman tried to conquer triple dribbles.
Three dribbles in a row without losing possession of the basketball.
Madeline Mussay's memory of it is foggy. Bullman's is not.
"She would take the ball from me," Bullman said of her Grayslake Central teammate and fellow senior Mussay. "I'm tall, lanky, not very strong. I would dribble the ball off my foot, and Madeline would come steal it from me in our little in-house league. My mom was like, 'Stop dribbling! She's going to take it from you!' "
Those were the days, before middle school. Bullman and Mussay laugh about it, even on a night when they fought back tears after playing the final game of their high school basketball careers.
"I do remember Kate," Mussay said Monday night after the Rams lost to Montini 55-33 in a Class 3A supersectional at Elgin Community College. "She was intimidating. I remember playing and trying to [take the ball from her]. I was shorter, so defense was my main thing."
Players grow, and not just physically. Take Bullman, still tall (6 feet 2) and lanky but stronger than when she first started playing hoops as a little girl. She dribbles from one end of the court to the other, fastbreak-style, without turning the ball over. She drains 3-pointers, posts up, snatches rebounds, inspires her teammates, and wins.
After averaging a double-double for the second year in row (career-best 19 points and 10 rebounds per game) and leading Grayslake Central to a school-record-tying 30 wins and third sectional championship in school history, Bullman is the captain of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team. She also averaged 3.5 assists, 3.6 steals and 3.1 blocks per game.
The guard/forward has a scholarship to Illinois State University.
"She has grown both as a player and as a person since she walked into this building," said Rams coach Steve Ikenn, who pulled up just-turned-14 freshman Bullman to the varsity three years ago. "She's come from a freshman who didn't want to say much and just wanted to go out and play to a senior who's a leader. To me, the definition of a great player is a player who makes those around them better. If that's the definition, she's a picture of the definition."
With a better Bullman, who embraced her role as a senior leader, Grayslake Central was better. For the second year in a row, the Rams went 14-0 in the Northern Lake County Conference. Unlike last season, when they lost on their home court to Carmel in a regional final, they won four games in the postseason.
"I can truly, honestly say I've never been on a team that has been this loving toward each other," said Bullman, a three-time all-area selection and daughter of Jay and Anna, both of whom played basketball for Elmhurst College.
That, she added, translated to success on the court.
"Our chemistry is amazing," Bullman said.
She stirred it.
"I did my best to embrace everybody," Bullman said, "and make [this season] the best one they're ever going to have."
A matchup problem due to her size and athleticism (she was also Grayslake Central's best volleyball player and an all-area selection), she posted the first triple-double of her career (21 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) vs. Grant and dropped a career-high 33 points on Grant in a rematch.
Against Montini, she became Grayslake Central's career leader in rebounds (984). Her 290 career blocks is also the school record, and her 1,601 points is third-most in Rams history. She ranks in the top five all-time in steals (363) and assists (281), too.
"She's phenomenal," Deerfield coach Danielle Hoveydai said after Bullman piled up 22 points and 15 rebounds, as the Rams ousted the Warriors 58-32 in the sectional semifinals at Crystal Lake South. "She's got a quick release, and she's got a great touch around the basket."
With Bullman, who was her team's leading scorer and rebounder each of the last three seasons, Grayslake Central won 98 games and four NLCC championships (34 straight conference wins and counting).
The achievements are something that no one, not even a pesky guard, can take from her.