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DeAnna Wilson develops into a top player in Illinois State women’s history

DeAnna Wilson develops into a top player in Illinois State women’s history
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NORMAL — One would never know it by observing DeAnna Wilson’s effervescent personality.

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But it takes Wilson time to feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.

“My juco coach, it took her a while to get me to open up, and with Coach G it took me a while,” Wilson said of Illinois State coach Kristen Gillespie. “I feel like I’ve changed as a person. I’m more open now. I used to be very closed off.”







Wilson


In her fourth year at ISU after one season at the junior college level, Wilson both sets the mood and sets the bar for the Redbirds. The St. Louis native considers it her job to keep the mood light and establish a high bar for achievement.

“She always has a smile on her face, she’s always dancing,” Gillespie said. “She’s the person who can connect with anyone. Everyone is her friend on the team. That’s what I love about Dee.”

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Illinois State’s DeAnna Wilson (24) and Shannon Dowell (0) celebrate against Drake earlier this season at CEFCU Arena




Senior guard Maya Wong breaks into an immediate smile when asked about Wilson.

“She’s kind of like the Mom of the team. She plays the music in the locker room,” said Wong. “We kind of follow her lead a little bit, especially on the court. She brings it every day. We’ve got to match her energy and effort. You watch her and she’s always doing the right thing. When Dee is in a good mood, everybody is in a good mood, that’s for sure.”

And when Wilson is in a bad mood?

“Well,” Wong said. “Let’s say she’s never in a bad mood.”

Wilson can, however, put Redbird opponents in a bad mood with her combination of scoring and rebounding that earned her Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer team honors in 2021, first team all-MVC in 2022 and second team all-conference in 2023.

The 6-foot-2 Wilson was averaging a career-high 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounding heading into ISU’s game at Drake on Saturday.







DeAnna Wilson at Indiana State

Illinois State’s DeAnna Wilson eyed a free throw on Feb. 4 against Indiana State.




She currently sits 13th on ISU’s career scoring list with 1,361 points and is fifth with 772 rebounds. Wilson ranks third in Redbird history in both free throws made (349) and attempted (493).

“She wanted to be more than just a back to the basket player. She’s really worked on her perimeter game over the last year,” Gillespie said. “She’s made a handful of threes, but she doesn’t look to shoot them often. I think she’s really good from 15 to 18 feet, and she can put the ball on the floor. It’s hard to double her now. She can face you up.”

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“I think I’m way more patient. I used to be very left hand dominant. I’ve grown to use both hands,” said Wilson. “Off the bounce, I’m getting better and I’m growing more physically too.”

Gillespie, who has openly touted Wilson as deserving of the MVC Player of the Year award, believes Wilson’s play has shown a higher level of urgency in her final year at ISU.

“What I love about Dee is when it’s game time she is as serious as they come, and she plays with a ton of passion,” Gillespie said. “She was really fortunate. She had JuJu (Redmond) her first couple years then Mary Crompton. She was able to learn from some really strong leaders. She’s taken over that role for us this year.”







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Illinois State’s DeAnna Wilson (24) and Shannon Dowell (0) celebrate against Drake earlier this season at CEFCU Arena




“I’m still the same old goofy me. But I think I realize how important every game is,” said Wilson. “To win games in the Valley is so hard. You’re going to get the best shot from every opponent every night.”

Gillespie credits Wilson for helping her become a better coach.

“We are wired very similar. I wear my emotions on my sleeve on the sideline so we play off each other pretty well,” the ISU coach said. “She’s been so good for me because sometimes I know I can take things really serious. I get tunnel vision on the task at hand. She always reminds me to have fun. I know I’ve needed that in my life.”







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Illinois State’s DeAnna Wilson (24) works against Saint Louis’ Tierra Simon (12) earlier this season at CEFCU Arena.




Wilson keeps the ups and downs of college basketball in perspective.

“Everybody can get so uptight if you don’t see that orange thing go in the basket. It’s just an orange, little ball. It’ll go in,” Wilson said. “It’s nothing you can do. Sometimes it’s just one of those days. Just go get it back on defense. Make the (other) team put the orange thing in the rim. It’ll be fine.”

Wilson will graduate in May with a major in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. She wouldn’t mind if an professional basketball opportunity delays her pursuing those interests.

“As I’ve had success, I’ve realized it’s kind of possible,” she said. “If (playing) overseas doesn’t work out, I want to work with juveniles as a behavioral therapist and work with the kids.”

Gillespie calls Wilson “just a phenomenal role model. My kids absolutely adore her. She has the best smile, and it’s hard not to love her.”

In constant pursuit of making her family proud, Wilson is particularly close to older brother Deontae Graham, a football player at Jackson State.

“His drive is to be great. It makes you want to be great yourself,” said Wilson. “He’s a big motivator for me when I’m down. He’s the first one to text me and tell me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear. I just can’t express my gratefulness for him enough.”

In Wilson’s time at ISU, the Redbirds have won an MVC regular season championship, an MVC Tournament crown and played in the NCAA Tournament.

“It means a lot. They definitely shaped me and everybody has helped me,” she said. “I just want to leave this place better than I found it.”

Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt

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