The 2023-24 Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Serena’s Paisley Twait an all-around leader

Versatile senior led Huskers to more wins than any team in the area

Serena's Paisley Twait cuts a piece of the net down after defeating Ashton-Franklin Center in the Class 1A Earlville Regional on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.

Paisley Twait didn’t lead The Times area in any individual statistical category – not points, not rebounds, not assists, not steals, not blocked shots.

The Serena senior leader was, however, toward the top of the area’s standings in all of those categories.

Which makes sense: an all-around, three-sport leader who wins a lot being an across-the-board star on a basketball squad that won more games and went deeper in the postseason than any other team in the area.

That’s why she’s The Times 2023-24 Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

“I think it’s good [to be an all-around player] on a team where you have people who specialize in stuff,” said Twait, also a unanimous first-team member of The Times All-Area Girls Basketball Team and IBCA all-state mentionee. “We’ve had people who are really good shooters, people who are really tall, good post players. I think that just fits into the role that I’ve had, doing a little bit of everything.

“Sometimes maybe I need to post up, or sometimes we’re going to run the floor and do a four-guard type of thing, and i can do that to. I just try to do it all to help the team.”

Which is exactly what she did, leading the Huskers to a 25-6 season that included perfect runs through the Little Ten Conference regular season and conference tournament, the Class 1A Earlville Regional championship and a heartbreaking two-point loss to eventual state qualifier St. Bede Academy in the championship game of the 1A Gardner-South Wilmington Sectional.

“I think being a leader comes easy when you want your team to succeed.”

—  Paisley Twait, The Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year

Twait’s individual statistics are nothing to sneeze at – 11.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.9 steals per game – but they definitely don’t tell the whole story that watching her compete, whatever the sport, so clearly conveys.

Whatever her team needs to do to win, that’s what Twait is probably doing.

“That versatility, she’s kind of like a Swiss Army knife,” Huskers coach Jim Jobst said. “She can do pretty much everything. She can post up, She can play the post. She can play at guard. She can handle the ball. She’s a really good passer. She’s a good rebounder.

“And the big thing about her on the floor is, she’s not really worried about stats. She’s just trying to figure out what we need that day to win. And that’s what she’s good at.

“She just wins.”

“I would say that I’m intense,” Twait said, “and I’m very competitive, but I also have fun, and I love to play – any sport, honestly.”

Serena's Paisley Twait shoots the winning free throw against Ashton-Franklin Center during the Class 1A Regional final on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 at Earlville High School.

Her stepping into a leadership role alongside senior teammate and fellow Times All-Area first-teamer Makayla McNally after the 2022 graduation of all-stater Katie Baker has kept a Serena girls basketball program that some thought might suffer a drop-off at the top of the Little Ten and a perennial threat to make more deep runs into the Class 1A postseason.

“She stepped up a great deal as a leader,” Jobst said. “Especially the last two years, and she was even better this year. In terms of practice, she sets the tone making sure everybody knows what we’re trying to do. She sets the pace in practice, makes sure everyone works hard. And then in games, she’s the vocal one out there who directs traffic and makes everything happen.

“Her leadership has gotten a lot bigger, even off the court.”

It’s a facet of her personality that didn’t develop accidentally.

“Ever since a younger age, my parents have said‚ ’Be a good teammate,’ and I think that makes me better at being a leader,” Twait said. “I like to see my teammates succeed. If people are having 30-point, 20-point games, I’m happy for them. I’m not wishing it was me. I just want to be a team and win.

“I think being a leader comes easy when you want your team to succeed.”

Twait’s success on the basketball court, alas, ended with the Huskers’ season. As mentioned earlier, she’s a star three-sports athlete, and she’s chosen to continue her athletic career on the softball diamond at NCAA Division II McKendree University in downstate Lebanon.

“It definitely hit me after basketball,” she said of giving up competitive hoops. “I was like, ‘Dang, I’m a one-sport athlete now.’ Giving up basketball is definitely going to be hard, because it’s been such a big part of my life since I was so little.”