Gyanna Russell dominated the local basketball courts from 2014-2017, finishing as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the East Hampton High School girls’ basketball program.
Russell recently wrapped up a five-year college career at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), duplicating the success she had on the high school courts.
“It has been everything I wanted. I have nothing but great things to say about my five years at SNHU,” Russell said of her time in Manchester, NH. “I honestly could not have gone through it if we didn’t have such a great support system in regards to my advisors, professors, and coaches. It is very sad that it is coming to an end.”
This past winter she enjoyed her most productive college season to date, averaging a career-high 13.1 points to go along with 5.5 rebounds per game as the Penmen finished with 21 wins and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990. They also won the regular season conference championship and hosted a regional tournament for the first time in school history.
“This season has been the best time I have had playing basketball. I have never been on a team as close and I’ve never felt such a family atmosphere as I do with this team,” said Russell, who called her teammates her best friends.
Unfortunately with five games left in the season, Russell’s college career was cut short in a game against Bentley on Feb. 12. The 5’9” senior was hit from behind on a layup attempt, tearing both her Anterior Crucial Ligament (ACL) and meniscus in her knee.
Despite the fact her final collegiate season ended abruptly, Russell remained positive and an active member of the team
“Even being on the bench and being able to cheer on my team and being with them through the historical season we had was absolutely amazing,” added Russell, who joked she would have given her left leg in order to play out the season.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russell had a gap year in 2020-2021 when competitive basketball was halted at the college. The fortunate part for Russell—along with the rest of college athletes— is that she was given an additional year of eligibility and could take graduate level courses.
Russell took full advantage of the situation, making lemonade out of lemons. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with concentration in organizational leadership and this June she will be graduating with my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with a sports business concentration.
On the courts this winter, the prolific Russell also earned Northeast-10 all-conference honors and joined an elite class, becoming a 1,000 point scorer in both high school and college.
Her 1,478 points is the program’s high mark at EHHS and in early February she eclipsed the four-digit milestone at SNHU, finishing with 1,022 points in college.
“I had a lot of support from my coaches and my teammates,” Russell said of the achievements. “It’s been overwhelming the amount of support and backing that I got.”
Russell added that one of her favorite moments at SHNU was when her college roommate Karlee Ziliak also reached the 1,000 point mark. The teammates achieved the feat within two weeks of one another.
She added that her college success is the result of many long hours in the gyms and at the parks while growing up in Belltown, crediting her parents, friends, teachers, and support from the East Hampton community.
Russell specified longtime East Hampton resident Deb McKinney as someone that not only showed support when she played for the high school, but also came to many of her games in New Hampshire.
In high school, Russell made all-conference all four years and was named all-state following her junior and senior seasons. She was also named the Shoreline Conference (SLC) Player of the Year following her senior season in which she averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds per game.
“Having the career I had at East Hampton really helped me in college,” she said. “I really can’t thank my parents and high school coach for all that he did.”
East Hampton girls’ basketball head coach Shaun Russell (no relation) remembers the 2017-graduate as an incredibly hard worker who never took plays off, adding, “Gyanna was one of the all-time great teammates that we have had in our program. She made everyone around her better and was willing to do whatever the team needed to give us the best opportunity to win.”
“Gyanna is a great role model for her younger teammates and all young people in general and she has represented herself, her family, her team, her school and her community in the best possible ways over the years,” added coach Russell. “I am thankful for everything she has done for me and our basketball program and I look forward to watching her continue to achieve in the next chapters of her life.”
The Russell family legacy continues to this day at EHHS. Gyanna’s father, Todd Russell, played for the school and now her sister, Jackie Russell, was recently earned all-conference following her sophomore season at the school.
“I love watching [Jackie] play and I love being that older sister that gives her a little push here and there and support. I can’t express how proud I am of her,” Gyanna said of her younger sibling. “To hear now that she is getting the college exposure that she deserves is the icing on the cake and I can't wait to see where her future goes.”
Upon graduating with her master’s degree in June, Russell eventually plans to pursue a career in the hospitality field.
However, she hasn’t completely shut the door on her career on the court.
“Going through this whole process, both mentality and physically of being hurt, I don’t know if I am quite ready to give up basketball.”
After rehabbing from the surgery to repair the torn knee ligaments, she will reassess her roundball future.
Russell said she may consider continuing her education and play basketball overseas, possibly in Ireland, adding, “I’m not sure if I’m ready to hang the shoes up yet.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin