EDINBURG — Edinburg North senior Miranda Gaytan, one of the Rio Grande Valley’s peskiest and most dominant defenders, chose to continue her academic and athletic careers at McPherson College, signing with the Kansas school during a ceremony at her family’s home Saturday evening in Edinburg.

“I’m nervous and excited, but I just can’t wait actually,” Gaytan said. “Coach (Josh Nichols) was amazing, and the first time I talked to him it was just something I couldn’t pass up. He was like me I guess you could say. I had other coaches tell me they were looking for this and this type of player, but when I talked to him, he told me ‘I’m a defensive-minded player,’ and I was like ‘Whoa! We’re going to click.’”

Gaytan, a 5-foot-3 point guard, made a huge impact for Edinburg North defensively throughout her four seasons playing varsity ball.

“I would tell them if they know what defense is, I’m the definition,” Gaytan said. “Growing up I was always taught that defense wins championships and offense wins games, and I always wanted to do that. I did training with (Edcouch-Elsa basketball) coach (Daniel) Richardson and he helped me so many times, but one thing he always told me was, ‘The one thing I can’t teach you is defense because you’re so defensive-minded and amazing at it.’”

Gaytan’s aunt Jenny Rae Gaytan, Edinburg North’s girls basketball coach, drove the point home too, saying ‘You’re just defensive minded.’

“I feel like that’s what got me to where I am now,” Gaytan added.

The Cougars’ senior gained a reputation over her high school career as a defensive stalwart and menace on the perimeter in a district comprised by many of the RGV’s most talented offensive players in recent years, many of whom are college-level players now that Gaytan believes have helped prepare her for the transition to the next level.

“It was really cool because I got to see different athletes and their moves. I sort of picked up on them, so it helped me too and I got to learn how to defend someone. It just taught me more stuff than I expected,” she said. “A lot of our district was super tough, especially Weslaco. They were well-known, and I feel like they helped me to get where I can, so in college I’ll be prepared. I won’t know exactly what’s going, but I’ll be prepared to see something similar.”

3558: Edinburg North senior Miranda Gaytan signs to play college basketball at McPherson College in Kansas during a signing ceremony Saturday evening at her family’s home in Edinburg. Gaytan earned a reputation as one of the Valley’s top defenders during her four years playing for the Cougars. Courtesy Photo.

Gaytan emulated her game after Debbie Black, a personal role model and women’s basketball trailblazer.

A Philadelphia native, Black starred at St. Joseph’s University from 1984-88. Black, who was also a 5-foot-3 guard, earned the nickname ‘The Pest’ with her toughness, intensity and relentless defensive pressure, which Gaytan has strived to emulate on the court.

“She’s one of my role models; she’s amazing,” Gaytan said. “She was playing overseas and on paper it says ‘6-foot-3,’ but it was a typo. She’s actually 5-foot-3, so it was a bad typo and as soon as she walked in, they started asking ‘Where’s the rest of you?’ But she said give me a chance and let me show you what I’ve got, and she was an amazing defensive player.”

She left St. Joseph’s as the program’s all-time leader in steals and assists, and played 10 seasons of professional basketball in Australia before joining the now-defunct American Basketball League and later being drafted into the WNBA in 1999.

Black, who remains the shortest player in WNBA and NBA history, won Defensive Player of the Year honors in the ABL in 1997 and again in the WNBA in 2001.

She retired in 2005 as the WNBA’s all-time leader in assist-to-turnover ratio and joined Hakeem Olajuwon, Nate Thurmond, David Robinson and Alvin Robertson as the only professional basketball players to record a quadruple-double, tallying 10 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 steals in a game.

“It’s totally mental,” Gaytan said. “If a person says ‘Oh, I just can’t do it,’ then they’re not going to be able to. But someone who has a defensive mind says ‘I have to do it.’ If my opponent is good, I want to be just as good as them, so I have to make sure my mind is where their mind is.”

Gaytan embraced the defensive-first philosophy to transition from one of her districts’ top disruptors into one of its most well-rounded players.

In her senior season, Gaytan ranked among the Valley’s leaders in steals (4.2) and assists (2.9) while also developing into one of the Cougars’ top two scorers and most reliable offensive options.

She garnered spots on District 31-6A’s First Team All-District and its All-Defensive Team as well after anchoring Edinburg North on the defensive end. Gaytan also captured a Class 6A Third-Team All-Valley selection from the Rio Grande Valley Basketball Coaches Association.

“Every year I’ve always tried to do the best that I can. Every time coach (Gaytan) would tell me to run or jump, I would ask, ‘How high coach?’ I just wanted to make sure we could go somewhere,” she said. “If I didn’t go anywhere individually, as long as we got there as a team, I was grateful for it. Unfortunately we didn’t go to the playoffs this year, but I was able to go to the school that I’m going to and it’s all thanks to my teammates, my family and my coaches.”

amcculloch@themonitor.com