Success not without its challenges along Peoples' road to stardom

Success not without its challenges along Peoples' road to stardom

DANVILLE — Anaya Peoples' mother loves to share stories about her 18-year-old daughter's basketball career.

So after the Schlarman senior was done chatting for her third consecutive News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year story, Tricia Peoples sat across from her child inside their Danville home and filled in a few gaps.

Let's start here: Anaya wasn't immediately invested in the sport she's spent the last couple years dominating locally.

When Anaya was 4 years old, her father, Keith, took her to the local YMCA. The duo spent time alone working out on the hardwood, but a more public scene wasn't in Anaya's ballpark at that point.

"She refused to step onto the floor," Keith said. "She didn't want to have anything to do with it. I'm not sure of the outcome of that day. I think we went home. I don't think we played that day."

It was the first significant obstacle Anaya faced in her hoops journey.

A self-inflicted one, but an obstacle nonetheless.

Some might suggest it's been the only barrier for the two-time Class 1A state champion.

The athlete who averaged 20 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 2018-19 to cap a stellar high school run.

The Notre Dame women's basketball signee. The McDonald's All-American. The recent Jordan Brand Classic invitee. The Team USA U18 national team member.

But that would be viewing Anaya's youth tenure with rose-colored glasses.

Not everything has been a case of Anaya suiting up, running circles around opponents and accepting the attention delivered as a result.

In many ways, Anaya's story seems like a fairytale. Even those, however, aren't written without speed bumps.

"It's going to be hard to the point where you want to quit," said Anaya, reflecting on advice she'd give to anyone striving to follow in her footsteps. "But then you have to remember, why did I start this. ... I love this sport. I have to look back at the little girl who was playing in the YMCA. Like, do it for her."

★ ★ ★

Once Keith convinced Anaya that she could handle the less-private basketball forum provided by the YMCA, the sixth-year Hilltoppers coach recognized what sort of talent he might be dealing with.

"You could tell there was something special," Keith said. "But I think you just have to be patient. You can't rush it. You can't force the process."

That said, her parents felt confident enough in Anaya's abilities to ring up Stephanie Roach, leader of the AAU's Finest Basketball Club out of Indianapolis, between Anaya's first- and second-grade years.

"She was like, 'We don't travel (the ball) out here. Our girls know how to play,'" Anaya recalled. "I could play, I felt like. I think we all thought I was pretty all right."

So Anaya and Keith got back in the gym. And they called Roach again one year later.

This time around, Anaya garnered a tryout. And a spot on Finest Basketball Club.

She competed alongside Roach's daughter, Kaitlyn Gilbert, who famously committed to Evansville as a seventh-grader and presently is at Notre Dame as a freshman, as well as South Carolina's Tyasha Harris and North Carolina's Emily Sullivan.

It was an early step in Keith's "blueprint" for Anaya, should she desire to follow through on her athletic potential.

"She had relatives and family members that had been so successful," said Keith, referring to Anaya's cousin Cassie and her time in college playing at Florida. "You can see by some of her questions that this is something I want to do, too.

"(I told her) well, this is what it's going to take, and if you really want it, you have to trust me."

That meant workouts that had Anaya begging Tricia to step in and talk to Dad.

It meant sacrificing time spent with elementary school friends.

It meant arguments between Anaya and Keith, because "some days, I would not really mentally be there," Anaya admitted.

That all began to change as Anaya learned to "fall in love with the grind" sometime around sixth grade, according to both Anaya and Keith.

"Complete flip (from the past)," Keith said with a laugh. "It's like she caught the bug."

★ ★ ★

Once that happened, colleges began catching wind of Anaya and her efforts against older foes on the AAU circuit.

Surely landing interest from Division I institutions before becoming a teenager can't be seen as an obstacle, right?

It depends on how one views it.

"I was so excited and elated," Anaya said. "And they kept coming, and I was like, 'This is awesome.'"

What was less awesome was trying to balance building relationships with each of these coaches.

Recognizing there wasn't a need to fill out each questionnaire programs mailed out.

And actually conversing with these, at the time, larger-than-life NCAA figures.

Anaya hated that last part.

"I didn't know how to talk to coaches. I was intimidated," Anaya said. "I was nervous playing in front of coaches. ... It was stressful at a young age because I really had no idea what I was doing."

While Anaya and her Danville-based pals racked up four IESA state championships between 2012 and 2014 with Schlarman's middle school squad, Keith and Tricia allowed her to take her time with anything related to a collegiate future.

Albeit with a tinge of anticipation.

"I got excited going to the post office," Keith said. "She's like, 'Oh, yeah, dad you can open them. ... (I said) we'll just throw it in the corner. When you're ready to open it, you can open it."

The recruiting process was the one constant for Anaya as she made the shift to high school basketball — and a world beyond her familiar Midwestern confines.

★ ★ ★

Anaya's freshman and sophomore years at Schlarman High were "interesting," as she terms it.

That's meant both in a positive and negative light.

Anaya didn't lose many games leading up to high school. The mindset that generated followed her to ninth grade, during which Anaya grouped with Arieal Scott and Sierra Bell to form a sort of youthful Big Three.

"(We felt like) we're going to just come in here and win," Anaya said. "We didn't have any principles. ... We just expected to win."

Opponents didn't receive that memo.

Seton Academy and Heyworth in 2016 and 2017, respectively, sent the Hilltoppers home from the Class 1A postseason without a state tournament appearance. Scott, now at Illinois, transferred to Urbana between those two campaigns.

"Wasn't our time. Hadn't paid our dues yet," Keith said. "To go through those two years where you didn't hold up a trophy, that was painful for her. I could tell."

The defeats continued outside IHSA hoops.

Anaya traveled to Colorado in 2015 and 2016 to try out for Team USA's U16 and U17 crews, respectively.

She survived three cuts each time before being let go short of a final roster.

"That (second) time, it really stung," Anaya said. "I was like, OK, I had the experience. I knew what was going to happen. ... And I didn't make it again."

So, just like when Anaya made the call to commit to Keith's blueprint, Anaya had to find a way around any barriers.

She started enjoying each moment with the Hilltoppers, smiling through even the toughest scoring droughts.

She, along with teammates Capria Brown, Sydney Gouard, Janiah Newell and Destiny Dye, locked in with the realization they could win state hardware just twice more as a unit before going their separate ways.

The result: Two state titles and a combined 65-3 record the last two seasons.

"If we would've won state those (first) two years, I don't know if we would've won these last two," Anaya said, "because we would've felt like we could've just went through and played and beat up on everybody."

As for Team USA, Anaya acquired an invitation to the 2018 U18 tryout and took the approach of "do(ing) everything that everybody else didn't do," such as focusing on defense, communicating, hustling and leadership.

The outcome: A spot on a team that won the FIBA Americas gold medal in August 2018.

"There were a lot of doubts. There's no guarantees," Keith said. "You have to be honest with your kids and let them know that they don't wake up one day and all of a sudden become an All-American. Doesn't happen that way."

★ ★ ★

Anaya presently has a lot of fun upcoming events on her plate.

A McDonald's All-American game appearance awaits next week in Atlanta. A showing in the Jordan Brand Classic follows next month in Las Vegas.

Both All-Star games are reserved for the best and brightest prep basketball standouts in the country.

Considering Anaya simultaneously is readying for another Team USA tryout and a fresh career with reigning NCAA national champion Notre Dame, it's safe to say she easily falls in that category.

Even so, the obstacles haven't receded.

The latest: Wrapping up a physical education credit needed to graduate from Schlarman. That means a stint on the Hilltoppers' track and field team.

As well as some crazy scheduling.

On March 16, Anaya worked out with Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin football assistant Murad Abbed for nearly two hours in the morning, followed that with an indoor track meet and then slid into basketball time with Keith.

"It's a lot of work, but that's what I have to do to go in (to Notre Dame) and be ready," Anaya said. "If I can make it hard on myself now, I can push it to the limit when I get to Notre Dame, I'm hoping, 'OK, this is not bad.'"

Bad is not an adjective that can be applied to Anaya. On the court or off.

She shook off that early setback at the YMCA. She followed Keith's master plan. She learned to love the grind.

It's made her one of the greatest high school girls' basketball players Illinois has even seen.

Keith can see that clear as day.

Talking about everything that went into this process, though, freed other memories that will live on beyond Anaya's playing days.

"From the first day we went to St. Paul's (Catholic School), not Schlarman, and we started shooting baskets when she had a little small skirt on and collared shirt ... then (we'd) go get ice cream," Keith said, "that's the most precious part of the blueprint."

HONOR ROLL: News-Gazette All-Area girls' basketball Players of the Year

YEAR ATHLETE SCHOOL

2019, Anaya Peoples, Schlarman

2018, Anaya Peoples, Schlarman

2017, Anaya Peoples, Schlarman

2016, Tori McCoy, St. Thomas More

2015, Lexi Wallen, St. Thomas More

2014, Tori McCoy, St. Thomas More

2013, Randa Harshbarger, St. Thomas More

2012, Jamie Blue, Uni High

2011, Lauren Bogle, Shiloh

2010, Amy Martin, Oakwood

2009, Hannah Ohl, Bismarck-Henning

2008, Mandy Kirby, Urbana

2007, Ashley Runck, St. Joseph-Ogden

2006, Allie Lindemann, Champaign Central

2005, Kendra Donley, Mahomet-Seymour

2004, Candi McGee, Heritage

2003, Anne Parrett, Centennial

2002, LaToya Bond, Urbana

2001, Beth Burke, Salt Fork

2000, April Seggebruch, CPCI

1999, Kandy Lindsey, Bismarck-Henning

1998, Yolanda Smith, Rantoul

1997, Missy Barrett, Shiloh

1996, Missy Barrett, Shiloh

1995, Allyson Glazebrook, Sullivan

1994, Allyson Glazebrook, Sullivan

1993, Karen Bloch, Argenta-Oreana

1992, Traci Butler, Chrisman

1991, Becky Clayton, Sullivan

1990, Courtney Porter, Shiloh

1989, Courtney Porter, Shiloh

1988, Karrie Redeker, Crescent-Iroquois

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