Bronze medalist Janelle Bailey steps up her game for big sister

— -- Janelle Bailey remembers tiptoeing into her sister's hospital room at Boston Medical Center nearly four years ago.

Gisele, a 6-foot-3 forward who had landed all sorts of honors in high school and had sorted through more than 70 basketball scholarship offers before arriving at Harvard, was headed for double hip surgery.

Gisele had been battling lupus, and one of her medications had caused the bones in her hips to break down with no chance for regeneration. Surgery corrected the problem, but that was the end of Gisele's basketball career. She never got to play for Harvard and instead became the team manager, a position the 21-year-old still holds as she enters her senior year.

Janelle, now 17, watched. And learned.

"Seeing what my sister went through made me want to play basketball even more," Janelle said. "I no longer have those moments where I think, 'Oh, I can't push through this practice.'

"I think about my sister, and I know she would want to do this right now, but she can't. Having that in the back of my mind every day has changed my outlook."

Janelle, a 6-foot-3 center, is a rising senior at Providence Day School (Charlotte, North Carolina). She recently returned from Spain, where she started all seven games and helped lead Team USA to a bronze medal in the FIBA U17 Womens' World Championships. She averaged 9.3 points and 9.1 rebounds and had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the Americans' only defeat, a 73-60 loss to eventual champions Australia in the semifinals.

In that game, Bailey made half of her eight shots from the floor. The rest of the team shot just 28 percent. Then again, Bailey is a rarity these days -- shooting from close range, playing in the paint with her back to the basket.

"Janelle is a dying breed -- an intimidating presence on both sides of the court," Providence Day coach Josh Springer said. "I've heard from a lot of coaches who say their players feel intimidated by Janelle from the moment she steps on the court."

Born in New York City, Bailey comes from an athletic family. Her 6-foot-5 father, Hessard, is a native of Jamaica and did some amateur boxing. Her mother, Kim, a native of New York, ran track in high school and is a lifelong Knicks fan.

The family moved to Charlotte when Janelle was 2, and her basketball love emerged four years later, following in the sneaker-prints of Gisele.

But Wayne Hinton, who started coaching Janelle when she was 10 and guided her through her years with the Charlotte 76ers AAU team, noticed something different about the younger of the two Bailey kids.

"No offense to her sister, but I knew Janelle was going to be better," Hinton said. "That's just what I got out of it -- Janelle learned from her sister's mistakes.

"Janelle learned how to finish through contact, how to space the floor, the importance of proper footwork. [Gisele] was a finesse player. Janelle embraced contact."

Bailey, a starter since her freshman year at Providence Day, has already won three state titles and scored more than 1,000 points. The Chargers, who compete in the North Carolina Independent School Class 3A, have won seven consecutive state titles and 11 in the past 12 years.

In February, Bailey led Providence Day with 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks as the Chargers shut down Raleigh Ravenscroft 42-21 in the state finals.

Providence Day senior Erin Whalen, who signed with Vanderbilt, had 11 points and six rebounds and was named North Carolina's Miss Basketball and the state's Gatorade Player of the Year.

Bailey, who averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds last season and made first-team all-state for the third year in a row, figures to be a strong contender for those honors as a senior.

"She's an amazing basketball player," said Kennedy Boyd, a guard at Providence Day. "You don't see too many 6-3 girls who can dribble, shoot, rebound, pass and play in the post like her."

Bailey has had just about everything go her way in her basketball career with the exception of last year, when she tried out for the USA U16 team and lasted until the next-to-last cut.

"It was heartbreaking, knowing all the work I put in," Bailey said. "[Getting cut] didn't feel all right. But it gave me fuel to want to try out the next year."

Springer said Bailey's "determination, perseverance and passion for the game" were on full display over the next year as prepared for another crack at Team USA.

"She committed herself to improving her fitness and her running mechanics," Springer said. "She worked tirelessly on finishing around the rim and increasing her shooting range."

Bailey's work paid off, and now colleges across the country are even hotter on her recruiting trail.

With more than 50 scholarship offers, Bailey will have her pick of schools. She plans on figuring out her five finalists next month, but she has not ruled out Harvard, a program she is extremely familiar with because of her sister.

Bailey, who has a 3.0 GPA, wants to study medicine just like her sister, and academics will be the main criteria she uses in selecting a college.

Basketball, though, is always close to Bailey's heart -- just ask her sister.

Gisele, who was a four-time team MVP at Charlotte Christian, left her high school as the program's all-time leading scorer.

According to Gisele's bio at Harvard, she scored more points at Charlotte Christian than the school's most famous alum -- NBA MVP Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

"I'm very proud of Janelle -- making Team USA was one of her dreams," Gisele said. "I think what happened to me made her appreciate the game. She knows the next practice could be the last one for her or anyone. She doesn't take anything for granted."