Spring Leader

Times Staff Writer

On the first day of tryouts more than two years ago, Tulyah Gaines stepped on the gym floor at Burbank Burroughs High and practically jumped through the roof.

"The first layup she did, she slapped the backboard," Coach Doug Nicol recalled. "I thought, 'OK, this girl is going to be a player.' That's a pretty good indication this girl is different than most girls."

Over the course of three varsity seasons, that has been the case.

Gaines, a 5-foot-8 junior averaging 18.6 points, likes playing defense more than offense, jumps well and, unlike some top players, hasn't transferred.

At a time when an increasing number of Southland athletes, including some of her teammates, are unwilling to be true to their schools, Gaines is sticking it out at Burroughs.

She wants to prove to college recruiters something that can't be seen in a scorebook: She's not going to run at the first sign of trouble.

Her father, Kevin, made it clear in a letter he sent to some of the nation's top college programs, just to let them know that Tulyah's not a quitter who will leave at the first hint of adversity.

"My parents made it clear that I couldn't leave, and I don't have a desire to leave," said Gaines, who returns to the lineup tonight in a home game against Newhall Hart after missing three games because of cuts on her left (non-shooting) hand.

Transfers have brought about a shift in power in the Foothill League, which is arguably among the toughest in Southern California.

Burroughs (11-8) might be in The Times' top 25 if senior Shaina Zaidi had not transferred to Marlborough after her freshman season or if Roxie Quintero had not transferred to Burbank.

Burroughs' opponent tonight, Hart (12-5), ranked No. 25, would probably be a top 10-caliber team if junior Brandi Kimble had not transferred to Lynwood after her sophomore season.

"Sometimes, when you've been coaching as long as I have," Nicol said, "you are surprised that kids stick it out for things that are more important than winning. I give her parents 100% of the credit."

Kevin Gaines, who was divorced from Tulyah's mother, Phay, in 1993, remained in San Bernardino when the rest of the family moved to the San Fernando Valley during Tulyah's eighth-grade year.

"I asked people where's a good high school in the Valley that has a solid academic base and a decent basketball program," Kevin Gaines said. "I wasn't looking for a powerhouse, just a decent coach who would teach my girl how to 'think' the game.

"I got three answers: Chatsworth, [Mission Hills] Alemany and Burroughs. It turned out the Alemany coach [Melissa Hearlihy] went to [North Hollywood] Harvard-Westlake that year, and that's way out of my price range."

So they made their choice and will live with their decision, no matter what happens.

"We're losing sight of the value of perseverance," Kevin Gaines said. "It does pay, sometimes, to stick it out and work the situation out until it gets better.

"Not every powerhouse is going to be a powerhouse, not every coach is going to be nice or have the perfect answer for every play all the time.... [Today,] when a better situation comes along or there's a bump in the road, we teach our kids to run."

When Gaines runs, it's on the court, and some of the top college programs in the country are paying attention. No fewer than three schools in the NCAA top 25, including No. 1 Duke, communicate weekly with Nicol about the guard with the 4.0 grade-point average who elevates about 18 inches on her jump shot and is always assigned to guard the opponent's best player.

"Education, that's my main focus," said Gaines, who recently required 17 stitches in her palm and wrist after accidentally breaking a window in her house. "But I do want to play professionally, definitely."

That goal seems reasonable if she continues to develop.

One scouting service ranks Gaines as the No. 7 point guard in the class of 2004.

New Mexico is among the programs interested in Gaines, and Nicol recently had an eye-opening discussion with one of the Lobos' assistants, Yvonne Sanchez.

"The assistant coach told me point-blank, 'Tulyah can do things right now that none of our kids can do,' " Nicol said.

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