Ruben Douglas can shoot, pass, dribble and finish a fastbreak with a flashy dunk as well as he can lace up his high tops.
That much has never been a question about Douglas, touted as one of the top high school boys' basketball players in the nation since he first took the court at Bell-Jeff High in 1994.
But this year Douglas, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, learned about big-time basketball. He learned how to play under the brightest spotlight.
Game after game Douglas would face difficult challenges--whether it be double teams or triple teams, media scrutiny or questions about his ability.
And not a night went by that Douglas, The Times' Valley player of the year, didn't rise to the occasion.
Though a marked man, he averaged a state-high 34.8 points in leading the Guards (18-13) to the Southern Section Division IV-A semifinals.
Twice he scored 50 or more points in a game and three other times had at least 40. His season total of 1,046 points ranks fifth all-time in Southern Section history and ninth in state history.
"I faced a lot this season," Douglas said. "It was a challenge, but I just couldn't back down from the challenge. Scoring is easy for me, it just comes natural. But this year I had to learn more. It's part of the maturity process."
Douglas had to overcome much more than being the man to stop every night. Three players expected to start on this year's team left school for various reasons before the season, leaving Douglas and center Mike West to carry the team.
"It's pretty tough to ask a kid to be as good as he was last year when three starters leave the team," Bell-Jeff Coach Eli Essa said. "It was a special situation and a special year, but Ruben is a special player."
Bell-Jeff didn't win the Santa Fe League title as it had the previous two seasons. Despite a thinner talent pool, Douglas carried the team further into the playoffs than in 1996 or '97.
"There were a lot of trials and tribulations this year," Douglas said. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Douglas committed to NCAA champion Arizona before the season began, a decision he said added to the pressure to perform.
"Every night there were fans there looking to see why this guy got this scholarship," he said. "And the other players said the same thing. Every night I had to come to play."
Fans, coaches and players weren't the only ones questioning Douglas' ability. Reporters constantly questioned the competition he was piling up the statistics against.
"I have yet to see a player as scrutinized as Ruben in 12 years of coaching basketball," Essa said. "But he came out with terrific grades. He could've played at any school in Southern California and have been just as good."