When the going got tough, Tayyiba Haneef kept driving.
Neither a painful knee injury nor a 45-minute commute to Laguna Hills High has prevented the tallest girls' basketball player in Orange County from excelling on the court and in the classroom.
Haneef stands 6 feet 5 1/2 and has transformed from a gangly youngster who closely resembled a newborn filly taking her first steps to a smooth-looking sophomore who can high jump over 5 feet 6 and dunk a basketball.
"She's getting bigger and stronger," said John Stonebarger, Laguna Hills athletic director. "And she's just starting to get some coordination."
Haneef's coach thinks she is more than just a tall player; she's an athletic one as well.
"She would be a good athlete if she were 5-10," Lynn Taylor said.
A summer of weight training and practice sessions with her father brought this new and improved player to the forefront of her peers in the Pacific Coast League.
But nothing has come easily for Haneef and her family.
Last season, a knee injury that cut short her fall sports schedule went undiagnosed because a lack of money kept her from undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging examination.
Although the extent of the injury was never discovered, the pain has since subsided.
And this year, her family was forced to reside with in-laws in Compton after the rent in Laguna Hills became too high for the family budget. The home is very close to Centennial High, but Haneef has been given clearance to remain at Laguna Hills.
It's during periods of crisis that an average person often wilts and fail. But Haneef has continued to flourish, maintaining her 4.0 grade-point average while participating in basketball, volleyball and track and field.
"I am really trying to do as much as I can for my future," she said. "How far I go the rest of the way is going to be up to me."
Haneef's parents take turns driving the 40 miles to Laguna Hills, and she uses the commute to study.
"When I have spare time, I'm always studying," she said.
The scare she had with the knee last year increased her awareness of the value of hard work in the classroom.
"If something went wrong, I would always have my education to fall back on." Haneef said.
Haneef said she thinks she is through growing after doctors measured a growth plate in her leg last year and said she would only grow another inch, which she has.
She has already surpassed her brother Arshad, a senior, who is about 6-2, and recently passed her 6-5 father, Mo. Her mother, Pat, is also above average height at 5-9.
"I like being tall because it opens up opportunities," she said. "But sometimes people expect me to do a lot."
And Haneef can expect to get tested even more in the future.
With Aliso Niguel and University joining the league and bringing a handful of other talented underclassmen, the Pacific Coast race should become one of the most competitive in the county.
One cross-town rivalry that will grow the next three seasons will be when Laguna Hills meets Aliso Niguel, which has 6-2 sophomore center Deanna Mitchelson, who averaged more than 14 points and 12 rebounds last season.
Haneef hasn't faced Mitchelson yet, but it is something she looks forward to.
Aliso Niguel also has another player as big as Mitchelson, and University has three talented newcomers.
"By the time we're all seniors, we should have one of the best leagues," Haneef said.
As for this season, Haneef wants to erase a bad memory.
"Last season, we were one win away from the playoffs," she said. "This year, we have a good chance of making it."
1993-94 / IN REVIEW
League Overall School W L W L Costa Mesa 10 0 16 9 Estancia 7 3 21 5 Trabuco Hills 7 3 14 13 Laguna Hills 3 7 11 12 Century 3 7 12 12 Laguna Beach 0 10 5 17
Costa Mesa went unbeaten in league play en route to its third consecutive league championship and advanced to the Division IV-AA semifinals, where the Mustangs were beaten by Santa Ynez in overtime. Heather Robinson was the star for Costa Mesa and is now playing for Miami. Estancia tied for second place with Trabuco Hills, which has left for the South Coast League. The Eagles were led by two-time all-league point guard Jessica Waltz, who was among the top three passers in the county with 7.4 assists per game. The Eagles made the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Trabuco Hills improved throughout the season and was led by Dyanna Hatch, who shot a county-best 48.6% from three-point range. Laguna Hills missed the playoffs, but emerged as one of the top young teams in the county, led by 6-5 1/2 center Tayyiba Haneef and point guard Tamara Inoue. Century's Nina Alexander was a first-team all-league selection last season, averaging 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds. Her sister, Addie Alexander, was honorable mention and averaged seven points. Laguna Beach had trouble with taller opponents and did not win a league game.