The robber of Robins Center

February 4, 2021

Sports, Portrait

Jacob Gilyard led Division I in steals last season. He also holds the Spiders’ career steals record after just three seasons. This fall, he was one of 20 players in Division I named to the watch list for the Cousy Award, which is given to the top point guard in the country. He plans more disruption in 2020–21 as the Spiders seek a tournament bid and run.

By Debbie Juniewicz

Jacob Gilyard takes defense personally.

“I don’t like when people score on me,” the senior guard said. “Getting steals and getting stops, that’s what I try to do.”

Gilyard does more than try. The 2019–20 A-10 Defensive Player of the Year led all Division I players with 3.2 steals a game last season and tallied a school-record single-season 99 steals. With another season to play, Gilyard is already the Spiders’ career steals leader — earning the distinction in January with No. 228 vs. Saint Louis.

Spiders head coach Chris Mooney is well aware that he has something special in his senior point guard.

“Having the mindset of being such an elite defensive player is rare, but having the ability is even more rare,” Mooney said. “He has such an incredible feel for the game, and when you combine that with tremendous effort, it’s incredibly unique.”

Defensive savvy is a family trait as his dad, Rodney, holds the team record for steals at Ottawa University in Kansas.

“He was my coach for a little bit when I first started playing, so he definitely was the first guy to teach me about the game,” Gilyard said of his dad. “He taught me how to play the game the right way.”

That’s not to say it was all basketball all the time, as Gilyard tried his hand at football, soccer, and track.

“My parents threw me into a little bit of everything,” the Kansas City native said. “Nothing else lasted more than a year or two.”

Gilyard evolved from an energetic young player who loved nothing more than running around on the court into a hardcore student of the game who enjoys studying film.

“It’s almost like he sees the game in slow motion, the way he can anticipate the next pass or next cut,” Mooney said. “His quickness is incredible, and aided by his anticipation, when he pokes at a ball, more often than not, he winds up with the ball.”

That basketball IQ will likely pay big dividends for a Spiders squad that college basketball analyst Andy Katz recently tapped as one of his seven “Final Four sleepers.” also named Richmond’s defense as one to watch in 2020–21.

“I hope there are high expectations for us because we have them for ourselves,” Mooney said.

The Spiders have all the motivation they need after having their solid 24-7 season last year cut short by COVID-19.

“It was heartbreaking,” Gilyard said. “We want another 20-win season, to get back to the tournament, to be successful.”

While Gilyard’s primary focus is the Spiders’ team success, he has a few personal goals as well, including repeating as the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year and adding A-10 Player of the Year for good measure. He is also a candidate for the prestigious Bob Cousy Award.

The rhetoric and communication studies major has his sights set on playing basketball professionally when he graduates, but he will always be a Spider.

“Someday, I hope to have my jersey in the rafters.”