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High school basketball: Versatile Gaither makes history as first 1,000-point scorer for Cherokee Bluff girls
Timber Gaither
Cherokee Bluff junior Timber Gaither is honored for reaching 1,000 career points after facing Gilmer on Feb. 5 in Ellijay. Photo courtesy Chelsea Millwood

Timber Gaither’s final free throw in Cherokee Bluff’s game against Gilmer last Friday carried a bit more pressure than a typical shot from the charity stripe.

Gaither, the Lady Bears’ starting point guard for the last three seasons, had come into the game just 13 points away from reaching 1,000 on her career for the Bears. When she was fouled in the closing minutes of the contest while sitting at 12 points on the day, she knew all she had to do was make one of two. 

After missing the first one, Gaither felt the pressure rise even higher. 

But as soon as the second one left her fingertips, there was no doubt where the ball was going to end up. 

Swish! 

“I wanted to cry, but I didn’t,” said Gaither, a junior. “I was just like thank God, I did it.”

Though the Lady Bears still trailed Gilmer by nearly 15 points following Gaither’s final make, that wasn’t on anyone’s mind as her teammates swarmed her to congratulate her on reaching a milestone that no Cherokee Bluff girls basketball player has done in the third year the school has been open. 

“I felt loved,” she said. “Everybody was so happy that even though we were losing, it just all turned into this happy moment, and we all just kind of forgot about the rest of the game.”

From the sidelines, Lady Bears coach Lindsay Justice watched her team celebrate a moment that she had known was an inevitability, ever since Gaither poured in more than 400 points as a freshman. 

A year ago, Justice had bought a commemorative basketball to give to former Cherokee Bluff forward Madi Phillips, upon reaching her 500th rebound for the team. She also decided to order one for Gaither’s 1,000th point as well, just to be prepared. 

“I’ve had it sitting on the shelf and waiting for her since last season because I knew it was something she was going to achieve here,” Justice said. “I have been counting down all season.”

It was a moment that Gaither had been building toward since she was just 4 years old. 

Gaither’s dad, a former player himself, put a basketball in her hands pretty much from the moment she started walking. 

As she grew up, the sport began to take over more and more of her life. 

“It really wasn’t a choice, at first, but then after a while, I started liking it, and it became something that I wanted to do,” she said. “And when I play basketball, it’s like stress free. I can be myself.”

Justice met Gaither when she was a middle schooler at Davis Middle, and the young player’s confidence stood out immediately to Justice, then a coach at Flowery Branch. 

When Cherokee Bluff opened up a year later and Justice accepted the job as girls’ basketball coach, she knew Gaither could become a cornerstone of the team. 

“Just from her confidence on the court when she was a middle school player, I knew that she had the potential to be a special high school player as well,” Justice said. “She was the type of player we could build a program around, so that’s what we’ve done.”

Coming into high school, Gaither had never run point on her teams, and was known as more of a slashing wing player. But Justice wanted to get the ball in Gaither’s hands as much as possible, so in the summer before her freshman year she made the switch to point guard.

“It’s been a bit of a development thing for her, transitioning to being a point guard, having to be the one to call plays and things like that, because it’s not something she grew up doing,” Justice said. “But she was the best candidate for the job.”

Gaither said both she and her parents were a little nervous when she started her first high school game as a freshman, but it didn’t take long for her to prove she belonged on the court with the older players. 

She connected on four consecutive 3-point shots in the game to help lead the Lady Bears to a dominant win in the first contest in program history. When asked if that experience helped to burn away her nerves for good, Gaither did not hesitate with her answer.

“Yes.”

Since then, Gaither has steadily set the standard for future Cherokee Bluff girls guard play, re-writing school record books every time she steps on the court. 

Looking toward the future, Gaither said she hopes to earn a college scholarship for herself, as well as help train up her younger sister who will be a freshman at Cherokee Bluff next season. 

But for now, she’s simply enjoying the ride of being the most prolific scorer in her school’s brief history. 

“(Reaching 1,000 points) means a lot to me actually, because it’s something I’ve been looking forward to since the summer of freshman year,” she said. “We’ve been through so much this season, and the fact that I can be the first is like wow, I’m really something to this school and to this team. It just makes me feel happy to think about it.”

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