Kyle Davies, a Chatsworth Sierra Canyon assistant coach, turned to senior Alexis Mark in the coaches’ office following the Trailblazers’ 71-49 victory over Calabasas Viewpoint Wednesday night.
Mark had produced another strong all-around performance and pulled more weight offensively with Texas commit Ashley Chevalier sidelined with an injury. Mark knocked down mid-range jump shots, hit a fade-away turnaround over a 6-foot defender and scored on offensive put-backs and in transition.
Davies asked Mark how many points she thought she scored. She guessed five. She paused and then doubled her response after seeing the reactions.
“You scored 17,” she was told.
Most high school players can recount each of the shots they made right after a game. Some can also describe every shot they miss. But Mark is a different breed. She doesn’t ponder her offensive numbers. She is a defensive specialist who affects the game whether she is scoring or not.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense, so I put defense first and eventually offense in going to come within it,” Mark said. “I rebound, I dive for loose balls. I have a lot of passion for the game.”
Mark’s defense is so dynamic that her work on the other end of the court gets overlooked. She averages 11.6 points and 8.4 rebounds this season.
“She’s really offensively talented too,” head coach Alicia Komaki said. “She’s so much more to us than a defensive player, but it gets kind of lost sometimes when you’re just in awe of how much effort she puts into defense.”
Mark possesses all the physical attributes to be a good defender. The 6-foot-2 forward has long arms that stay active in passing lanes and deter forwards trying to shoot over her. She has terrific lateral mobility that enables her to stay in front of smaller guards.
But Mark is one of the best defenders in the nation because of her preparation. She attacks defense with a fervor rarely seen on the high school level.
“She has the talent level. She has the work ethic,” Komaki said. “The amount of effort that she puts into preparing for defense is just not common. She comes to watch film on the other team ... a lot of kids don’t do that. We just get done with a team film session. She pulls one of us aside, ‘Coach can we watch more? Can you show me more?’ She just takes such pride in it and it’s very, very evident when you watch her play that she loves defense.”
Mark’s game should translate seamlessly at the next level and could gain her big minutes early in her college career. She signed with Boise State after seeing the intensity at the Broncos’ practices.
“I went on a visit there and I felt loved there,” Mark said. “The vibe there was really good. The practices are loud and everybody competed against each other, no matter what age you were.”
For Komaki, Mark is a luxury.
Sierra Canyon (17-3) has played a national schedule this season and no matter the opposition, Mark targets the top offensive weapon. It can be a 6-4 post player committed to Connecticut or a 5-8 All-American like Duncanville, Texas guard Deja Kelly.
But the defense doesn’t just come from Mark. The Trailblazers are seeking back-to-back CIF Open Division state titles because their three best players — captains Vanessa De Jesus, Chevalier and Mark — are their three best defenders.
“They’re the hardest workers and they’re the best players. That’s not usually the case,” Komaki said. “They all play defense. They all play offense. They all put in work outside of practice. They all show up early. They all stay late. They’re perfect.”
The trio is constantly competing.
“We push each other and I think we help each other get better in practice,” De Jesus said. “We’re always competing, helping each other’s weaknesses, advice and just supporting each other. Having those players who have the same passion and goals as you in the next level, it makes it easy to get better because you have the same goal is winning the ring. [We] just help each other become the best you can.”
Adding a little sizzle
De Jesus can shoot, score and rebounds well from the perimeter, but she loves to pass and isn’t afraid to add a little sizzle. She threw a behind-the-neck pass setting up one basket against Viewpoint and later floated a fast break lob that Mark laid up. It was the fourth alley-oop the two have converted this season, Komaki said.
“I see things before they happen. I can get my teammates the best shot where they can score,” De Jesus said. “I love like Chris Paul, like all those flashy passing guards like Jason Williams and Sabrina [Ionescu]. So that’s where I learned them from and those kind of passes are fun.”
De Jesus has signed with Duke where she plans to study medicine and follow in the line of dynamic combo guards the Blue Devils have produced from Chelsea Gray to Alana Beard.
“Their program was crazy, the support and the sisterhood out there,” De Jesus said. “Meeting the coach and talking to the players, it felt like home with the community and just the people who are out there. It made me want to commit.”