Ciara Gregory always had a shot that was worth something.
When she was in third and fourth grade, one of her favorite activities was to go to Jeannette High School boys basketball games and shoot the halftime $1 shot. Contestants shot from halfcourt and anyone who made the shot would get a share of the pot.
"She lived for those halftime shots," said Terry Gregory, Ciara's father. "She was so young, they would let her move up to just short of the 3-point line, but she had no trouble shooting from there. I can't tell you how many times she made the shot and got the money. She would do it all the time."
Ciara Gregory is now 18 and a senior girls basketball player for the Jeannette Jayhawks. These days, her shooting ability is priceless.
Gregory is one of the top shooters in Western Pennsylvania girls basketball over the past decade or so. A 5-foot-8 guard, she has turned into a prolific scorer, averaging 31.3 points a game this season, the best in the WPIAL. Since 1985, a WPIAL girls player has averaged more than 30 points a game only 19 times.
This season, Gregory has made five 3-pointers in a game twice, six 3s twice and seven 3s once. She scored 40 points in one game, and 50 in a contest a year ago.
"She may have one of the quickest releases on her shot that I have ever seen," said Monessen coach Gina Naccarato, the leading scorer in WPIAL history with more than 3,000 career points.
Gregory is a girl who got her start in basketball playing on a boys team. She is a future Division I college player (she has signed with Charlotte of the Atlantic 10 Conference), the daughter of a former standout Jeannette football quarterback and also someone who is close to former Jeannette football star and current NFL quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
"We'll text each other," said Gregory, whose brothers were friends of Pyror during his Jeannette days.
You could call Ciara Gregory "The Natural." Her two older brothers, Richard and Sean, played basketball at Jeannette, and Ciara turned into the proverbial gym rat at a young age. Her mother, Christy, is a former high school cheerleader, but Ciara's father called his youngest child "the typical tomboy."
"But it wasn't like I took her and taught her everything. It all just came naturally for her," said Gregory, who played quarterback at Temple University in the 1970s. "When she was in third or fourth grade, we took her to try out for a boys traveling team in Mount Pleasant. She got in the layup line, they passed her the ball and she did a layup almost perfectly and we didn't teach her how to do it. She just knew how to do things naturally."
That Mount Pleasant team was called the Dukes, and they ended up having a Duchess. Gregory played on that boys team for a few years before playing on a Jeannette girls team in fifth grade.
By the time Gregory was a freshman at Jeannette, she was the leading scorer on the girls team and helped the Jayhawks make the WPIAL Class AA championship game in 2010. A year ago she led the WPIAL in scoring at 26.7 points a game. But she has taken her scoring -- and shooting -- to another level this season.
Gregory said she had an "awful" shooting night against Riverview Monday. She only scored 25 in that one.
"I think she's a great player," Naccarato said. "We've played her the past four years and she's a scorer because she has to be. But she also makes the rest of the team better. We threw all kind of junk defenses at her, but when you're a scorer, you find a way to score."
In basketball vernacular, there are "scorers" and "shooters." Gregory might be a cross between both.
"I knew I was always capable of scoring a lot, but I didn't think it would be as consistent as it has been," Gregory said.
Then there is that shot. Gregory has honed it over the years. This past summer, she spent countless hours shooting -- either in a gym or at the basket in front of the Gregory's home.
"I think shooters can be made," she said. "For me, the key is to be on balance and to hold my follow-through, which sometimes I don't do."
Jeannette, under coach Luann Mills, counts on Gregory to score often and so far the strategy has been pretty successful. Jeannette was 10-5 and 7-1 in WPIAL Class AA Section 3 before a scheduled section game Thursday night against Springdale.
Terry Gregory jokes that his daughter "has never seen a shot she didn't like." Ciara was 11 of 41 from the field in one game this season.
But for the season, Gregory is averaging 25.5 shots a game and she has very good shooting percentages. She makes 50 percent of her 2-point attempts and 37 percent from 3-point range. She is shooting 77 percent from the free-throw line.
"When you're a scorer, you find ways to score and that's what she does," Naccarato said. "She scores her 30 or 35, but also gets a couple others to get in double figures, and they usually win. That's all you can ask for."
In addition to her scoring prowess, Gregory helps Jeannette in other ways. She averages 8.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and an eye-popping 5.1 steals per game.
Off the court, Gregory is a teenage girl who loves to collect sneakers ("I probably have 20 to 30 pair of Nikes and Jordans," she said) and who has better than a 3.0 grade point average. She is the apple, er, shooter, of her father's eye.
"When she was younger, we would always travel to see playoff games. I'd take her to the Palumbo Center for the [WPIAL] championships and she would just love it," Terry Gregory said. "She loves sports. I don't think she has ever worn a pair of high-heel shoes in her life. She went to the prom finally last year, but I think she wore flat shoes. I've told her someday she is going to have to get out of those sweats and hoodies. Now, she's finally wearing makeup."
It's the makeup of a shooter.
Over the past 28 seasons of WPIAL and City League basketball, a girl has averaged 30 points only 19 times. Here is where Jeannette's Ciara Gregory fits in with the top regular season scorers since 1985.
• Year: Name, School, Avg.
1991: Maude Searcy, Wilkinsburg 36.1
1989: Maude Searcy, Wilkinsburg 34.7
2008: Darche Jackson, Wilkinsburg 34.0
1994: Gina Naccarato, Monessen 33.6
1991: Kris Sebastian, Monaca 33.4
1996: Gina Naccarato, Monessen 33.0
1989: Anne Malkowiak, Ellwood City 32.2
2003: Kamela Gissendanner, Clairton 32.1
1996: Michelle Kalkowski, Mount Pleasant31.9
1999: Brooke Stewart, East Allegheny 31.4
2013: Ciara Gregory, Jeannette 31.2
1989: Cathy Torchia, St. Francis 30.8
2002: Kamela Gissendanner, Clairton 30.5
1997: Brooke Stewart, East Allegheny 30.5
1995: Shauntai Hall, Albert Gallatin 30.5
1989: Kris Sebastian, Monaca 30.5
1986: Lorri Johnson, New Castle 30.5
1995: Gina Naccarato, Monessen 30.3
1985: Linda Banks, Wilkinsburg 30.2
2005: Amy Johns, McKeesport 30.0
Mike White: email@example.com or 412-263-1975. Twitter @mwhiteburgh First Published January 25, 2013 5:00 AM