How the Lady Bulldogs emerged to sign an 'instant impact' player in Jillian Hollingshead

Hollingshead, a top-rated prospect at McEachern, chose Georgia over premier programs to round out the 2021 signing class.

Georgia signee Jillian Hollingshead, a four-star prospect from McEachern and Team Hubbard Elite, poses for a photo inside the Lady Bulldogs’ locker room. (Courtesy of Ryan Leonard — Georgia Basketball)

ATHENS, Ga. — The moment held a lot of significance for local product Jillian Hollingshead.

She had more attached to her aspiring college basketball career than the four recruiting stars next to her name. Hollingshead endured grief with the loss of her mother. She had to rely on her support system of her aunt, godparents and coaches to build confidence on the basketball court. Hollingshead had the stature of a highly-regarded prospect and a number of experiences along that journey.

All of it led to standing around four relatives and a microphone. Finally, Hollingshead was ready to make it public. She held up the microphone to announce her plans at a broadcasted college reveal event. Hollingshead expressed her gratitude and the words “I will be…” were spoken.

She’s staying home.

“I will be continuing my academic and athletic career at the University of Georgia,” Hollingshead said at the ceremony.

“Dawg Nation in the house,” a member of the selected audience immediately yelled.

Hollingshead held up a red Georgia women’s basketball sweatshirt. Her relatives revealed shirts with the team logo and a collage full of Lady Bulldog art was uncovered behind the in-state recruit from the Atlanta area. Her wait was over and one of the state’s premier recruits opted to stay within a few miles of where the narrative began as a seventh grader.

“Jillian is an elite player,” Georgia head coach Joni Taylor said in a statement. The program already had the national letter-of-intent in hand and made the announcement as the ceremony concluded. “At 6-foot-5, she brings tremendous size and athleticism to the forward position. She’s extremely skilled, and her ability to dribble, pass and shoot the ball from behind the arc are unique for her size.

“Jillian really is the entire package.”

Hollingshead chose Georgia over UCLA, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech and Tennessee. The Lady Bulldogs won the race and emerged due to longstanding relationships as Taylor and staff realized the homegrown talent as early as possible in the recruiting process.

Georgia adds Hollingshead to a prized signing class. Fellow four-star Reigan Richardson from Huntersville, N.C. (No. 34 nationally, according to ESPN HoopGurlz) headlines the class, and guards Kimora Jenkins (Long Island, N.Y.) and Alina Sendar (Amsterdam, Netherlands) round out the class.

Hollingshead’s accolades include being a McDonald’s All-American nominee, two-time GHSA state champion at Holy Innocents’, an invitee to the USA Basketball U16 National Team trials, Class A Player of the Year and First-Team All-Georgia award winner. She is ranked as the 37th-overall player nationally, according to the ESPN HoopGurlz rankings, with a scout grade of 93.

“She’s a five with a guard’s skill set,” said Chad Hubbard, Hollingshead’s coach at Team Hubbard AAU on the Nike EYBL circuit, on Friday to the Lady Bulldogs Report. “She can shoot the (3-pointer), handle the ball and can react against defenses. She’s very coachable. She’s going to bring an instant impact.”

Georgia has been in touch with Hollingshead since she was a middle schooler. The Lady Bulldogs’ staff has plenty of ties to the prospect’s circle. Hubbard, her AAU coach, is the father of Georgia junior Kaila Hubbard. The coaches knew Hollingshead on nearly every level — athletically, academically and personally — well before her final decision came.

Hollingshead didn’t rush into the decision. She stayed patient, even when visits were tabled due to the pandemic. She would delve into each option, and every school had its pluses. But Georgia had an important advantage.

“I think Joni Taylor is more than basketball with these kids at UGA,” Hubbard said. “She’s a role model as one of the few Black coaches in the NCAA. She’s done what Jillian is trying to do.”

What is Georgia getting?

At the end of last high school season, Hollingshead came to Hubbard’s team as a state champion. The only problem was that the versatile forward hadn’t been playing to her full potential. She had averaged around 11 points per game by year’s end at Holy Innocents’.

Hubbard knew his 6-foot-4 player too well. He knew Hollingshead had too much size and talent to be a supporting cast member. She needed to get some spotlight, and everyone around her knew it.

At one tournament, Hubbard called a timeout in the first quarter. The game was scoreless, but the pause was for Hollingshead. A spark of confidence needed to be given.

“She came to the EYBL and I let her play,” Hubbard said. “I said ‘You get a rebound and there are no outlets. You can handle the ball, just like (North Carolina signee and No. 4 guard) Kayla McPherson.’”

If Hollingshead didn’t take command, Hubbard threatened to yell. He didn’t have to.

A few months later, in a premier league, Hollingshead averaged around 26 points per game. Hollingshead then told her coach “That’s how I want to play in college.”

The type of talent Hollingshead becomes eye-catching. Everyone wants a piece of it. McEachern girl’s basketball coach Phyllis Arthur has been around the high school scene for a while. She hadn’t coached a 6-foot-4 player since former Georgia forward Caliya Robinson.

Little did she know another one was transferring. Arthur was having a bad Sunday when her phone rang. She didn’t know it was Hollingshead, who she had known since the end of her new player’s eighth-grade year, until she left a message. Hollingshead said she was transferring to McEachern for her final season before attending college.

And well …

“Whatever I was going through, I threw it away and ran out into my backyard,” Arthur said. “I was screaming and yelling. I said ‘What? Jillian Hollingshead?’”

Hollingshead comes to Georgia with lofty desires. She wants to be able to shoot from the perimeter, handle the ball and be a major influence in the Lady Bulldogs’ offense, Hubbard said. Saturday afternoon was an emotional afternoon for the coach and those around Hollingshead. They endured plenty of joyous moments and tribulations alongside her.

As they send her off, there’s an echoing sense of pride.

“My desires for her are to accomplish all of the goals she has,” said Ava Johnson, Hollingshead’s godmother, on the broadcast. “I want her to keep her feet grounded. That’s who Jillian is and I have no hesitation she will follow through.”

For Georgia, that moment of receiving a national letter-of-intent held a lot of significance, too.

“We have been recruiting this special lady for a long time,” Taylor said. “She is a leader and someone her teammates look up to, and we could not be happier that she chose to stay home and play here in her home state.”