This was not how it was supposed to be.
Gabby Gattuso was supposed to be the local girl who went to the local college and turned its fortunes around. Instead, she has found things are much different at Eckerd College than they were at Indian Rocks Christian.
For starters, there is the losing. The Tritons won nine games in 2004-05, the year before she signed her scholarship. But an influx of talent was going to make 2005-06 better. She was going to be the foundation for a team on the rise.
Not this season. Eckerd College is 4-23, 2-14 in the Sunshine State Conference. As the conference tournament's ninth seed, the Tritons play eighth-seeded Florida Southern in today's opening round.
"It's been hard," said Gattuso, a Times first-team All-Pinellas County pick three straight seasons who Tuesday was named SSC freshman of the year. "There was a time when everybody kind of broke down. We went to New York (in mid December) and we lost two games and everyone was wondering if this was going to keep happening. We had some good team bonding. We told each other that we were going to get through this, that we were going to be relentless."
Gattuso, a 6-foot center, has had to stay relentless to get through this season. She is not used to losing. With Gattuso as its key player, Indian Rocks Christian made the playoffs three straight seasons.
She had few scholarship offers, mostly because she played at a small school against smaller foes. Eckerd stayed on her, and she signed in November of her senior season.
"I really wanted to stay close to home, close to my parents and brother and sister," Gattuso said. "I like it here a lot."
After preseason practices, she became the starting center. In 27 games, she has averaged 16.6 points and eight rebounds, both team highs.
"I think she's a diamond in the rough," said coach Brian Shultes, who would like to see her improve defensively. "I'm surprised she didn't get more interest from other conference teams. I think she's going to be a great player."
Gattuso said she has made the social transition with little trouble. She lives on campus and can see her sister, Mo, play basketball at Indian Rocks Christian when she has time. Gattuso said Mo is leaning toward joining her next year.
The basketball part can take its toll, but Gattuso has no plans to bail out, and she's not ready to give up on this season.
"We want to be the Cinderella team of the tournament," she said.