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Reaching Higher: Gabrielle Essex leading DHS toward title

Like many young kids, Demopolis High junior Gabrielle Essex dreamed of sinking the winning basket in a big game as she played basketball by herself in the late afternoon in her parent’s driveway.

She would pretend to have the ball in the final seconds of a tight scoring game with just one chance to give her team the victory. She would begin to count down from five seconds as she dribbled to the basket. Then at four seconds she would locate her spot on the court. At three seconds she would set her feet and leap to the sky. By two seconds the ball was in flight and at one second she would watch with anticipation as the ball bounced against the rim and fall ever so slightly back into the hoop.

But to Essex it was all just a childish dream.

Never did she ever really think that a girl from a small town like Demopolis would get that kind of opportunity.

Oddly enough though, dreams do have a way of coming true and tomorrow Essex might just get that opportunity she once dreamed of when she leads the DHS Lady Tigers to their first appearance in the Class 4A state finals.

Growing up in Demopolis, Essex learned her talents with the round ball from her dad, who would watch his daughter battle with the boys in the neighborhood ever day under the goal in the driveway.

“My dad taught me about the game, but I really learned how to play it by playing with the boys in my neighborhood,” Essex said. “I was surrounded by nothing but boys in my neighborhood who loved to play basketball, so I had to play against them if I wanted to play.”

Though Essex was both younger and smaller than her competition, there was no special treatment allowed in her neighborhood.

“The treated me awful,” Essex said. “They wouldn’t let me have the ball and always made me go get the ball when it would go up under a car or out into the street.”

But it was here that she learned how to work for what she wanted. Because she wasn’t treated like a girl on the court, she was never expected to play like one either.

“I had to work for everything on the court when I was growing up,” Essex said.

Today she continues to work for what she wants, spending her summers in basketball camps learning new skills, while other girls spend their summers shopping at the malls and staying up late with friends.

But none of that seems to bother her.

“I still get to do all the same things that everyone else does, I just have to manage my time better,’ Essex said.

But all of the hard work is beginning to pay off for Essex. She has established herself as a dominator of the courts with her aggressive play that has been unmatched this season. Essex averages 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals per game, and though she is only a junior, Essex is considered by many to be one of the top four AHSAA girl’s basketball players in the state of Alabama.

It’s been 10 years since her days in the neighborhood with the boys and Gabby- as her team mates call her- has a new dream, that of playing basketball for a major Division I college. But like her dreams of the past, she feels that that too, is only a dream.

She says she is a big UCONN fan and dreams of the opportunity to play at that level one day, but can’t imagine a school like that ever coming to Demopolis, Alabama to watch her play.

“I’m from a small town in West Alabama, big schools like that don’t look at kids from down here,” Essex said.

But all of that could change after tomorrow. By fulfilling one dream, Essex could open the door to another.