Senior point guard Madison Gillis is poised to make Division Avenue High School basketball history, after passing the 1,000-point career mark in dramatic fashion on Jan. 5. Gillis, who is in her fifth year as a varsity player on the Dragons squad, became only the second player of any gender in the school’s history to make it into quadruple digits, and stood just 128 points shy of the all-time scoring record set by Noreen Duffy in 1996.
“This is a big milestone for a high school player,” the self-effacing, 5-foot-9-inch powerhouse said of her accomplishment, which she reached one day before her 18th birthday on Jan. 6. “It was a pretty good weekend,” she said, smiling. “It was something I’ve always been looking forward to since I started in eighth grade.”
Gillis went into the game against Roosevelt High School just 12 points shy of the mark. She found her moment in the second quarter, scoring on a left-handed layup off a steal, and finished the game with a total of 1,019 points, as the Dragons cruised past Roosevelt, 48-34.
Coach Steve Kissane, who is in the last season of a 30-year career as Division’s girls’ basketball coach, said that he recruited Gillis from Wisdom Lane Middle School in Levittown. She was the first eighth-grader to play varsity at Division. Duffy, in whose footsteps Gillis eventually followed, was her math teacher at Wisdom.
“She’s incredibly competitive,” Kissane said of Gillis. “She’s the most determined player I’ve ever had.”
Gillis’s interest in basketball bloomed early. She began playing on school and club teams in first grade, and eventually joined the Long Island Lightning, an Amateur Athletic Union travel team that plays in tournaments and regularly attracts the attention of high school and collegiate recruiters.
Gillis said that her AAU experience was valuable in preparing her for varsity ball. “It wasn’t a big difference in physicality,” she said, “and AAU is faster than high school.” Besides the opportunity to be seen by recruiters, the travel club also gave her a chance to visit such cities as Chicago, where her team won its bracket, and Louisville, Ky. “I liked Chicago,” she said.
Both of Gillis’s parents played basketball at Division, and went on to collegiate careers — her mother, Kathy, at St. Thomas Aquinas University, and her father, Tom, at Nassau Community College and Hofstra University.
Madison’s sister Emily, a junior at Division, is on track to become the third Division player to reach 1,000 points, Kissane said. Her twin brothers, seventh-graders Jack and Emmet, play on Wisdom’s basketball squad.
Madison is also a standout player and captain of Division’s soccer squad, where she is a stopper, and the lacrosse team, where she plays midfield. Until last year, she also played soccer for the Long Island Empire travel team.
In school, she is the vice president of the Division student council and is active in the Peer Pals Club, a group that mixes special-needs and mainstream students. “I’ve always been interested in special needs,” Gillis said — even before she met Kissane, who taught special education in the Levittown district before retiring last year.
“Besides sports, school clubs and actually going to school,” Gillis said, she doesn’t have much time for hobbies.
She is being aggressively recruited by a number of colleges, and has narrowed her focus to schools where she can pursue her academic dream of becoming an engineer — “mechanical engineering or robotics,” she said. The current front-runners include SUNY New Paltz; Widener University, in Chester, Pa.; and York College, in York, Pa.
Gillis said she has no ambition to play basketball professionally.
She and Kissane were both hopeful about this year’s postseason prospects. The Dragons currently have a conference record of 3 wins and 2 losses, and an overall record of 6-4. “We’ve made the postseason in 24 of the last 25 years,” Kissane said, although the team has yet to win a Nassau County championship.
In addition to her most recent accomplishment, one other moment has stood out in Gillis’s high school career. “I was in 10th grade, and we were playing [archrival] Wantagh in overtime,” she said. “We were down one point and had about five seconds to go. I got the rebound, dribbled to mid-court and shot.” Gillis sank the shot just as the buzzer sounded. “That was a special moment,” she said.