Jasmine Singleton and Ali Zelaya had some advantages over their peers when they arrived in the Millennium girls basketball program in 2016.
Adriana Zelaya had just finished her Millennium career and Tyonna Singleton was transferring from Westview to Millennium to play with her younger sister. But Tigers coach Courtland Rojeck said the newcomers quickly made themselves indispensable and have worked for everything they have earned along the way.
So far that tally includes the program’s first state title and major college scholarships for the younger sisters who are now seniors.
In November, Singleton signed with UNLV while Zelaya accepted a scholarship offer from North Carolina.
“A lot of times when you have an older sibling, you get to see the competition you’ll be up against,” Rojeck said. “And regardless of their older siblings they’re really hard workers. As freshmen they came in ready to compete right away.”
Already 6-3 when she first stepped on campus, Ali Zelaya could not fade into the background. Her abilities also pushed her to the forefront, as she averaged 10.7 points and 7.6 rebounds in her freshman year.
Adrianna Zelaya just began her senior year playing for NCAA Division I Monmouth University in New Jersey. She has been her younger sister’s road map.
“For four years I was coming to her games and I grew up watching her play. I was able to prepare myself for the transition that was going to come. She let me know what it was going to be like and the same thing with college, she’s letting me know what it’s like,” Zelaya said.
Tyonna Singleton also showed her younger sibling by two years the ropes, but it was for a then-competitive Westview girls basketball team. Rojeck knew the Singleton sisters from their rivalry games.
Then Tyonna decided to transfer to Millennium, Jasmine open enrolled as a freshman and suddenly he was coaching the Singletons.
“I knew a lot about Westview and always thought I was going there. Then my sister decided to transfer and I was going wherever she was going,” Singleton said. “Freshman year it really helped me that she was here with me.”
With only one senior playing regularly Millennium still reached its second 6A state final, losing to its biggest rival, Valley Vista, 44-36.
Not having seen the Tigers and Monsoon square off growing up, Singleton said she did not realize how big that state title rematch was.
“In that game I was a lot more timid and nervous, anxious but in a bad way. I was anticipating so much and I wanted to have the game go perfect. It went by so fast and I was overthinking it. Last year we went in so comfortable because we trusted each other and ourselves," Zelaya said.
In between, Singleton and Zelaya were a big part of the 2017-18 team that earned the No. 1 seed in 6A but was shocked by Phoenix Xavier Prep in the 6A semifinals.
Determined, and moving down to 5A, the Tigers did not leave anything to chance last season. They dominated, winning every playoff game by at least 25 points and trouncing Gilbert 66-40 in the title game.
“We’ve definitely come back confident, but I don’t think it’s in the sense that we don’t have to work for it anymore. We all came in with the mindset that yes we want to and hopefully we will win state this year but we know what we need to do to get to that point,” Zelaya said.
Zelaya has grown to 6-4 and credited Rojeck, her dad, Rey, and trainer, Kenny Drake, for recent growth on the court.
“What’s unique about Ali, especially being 6-4 is in high school if you have a 6-4 kid they’re usually playing on the block. The last year and a half we’ve been playing her all over. When you have a 6-4 kid with the ability to handle the ball, shoot the ball and post up when we need a bucket, that’s really unique. Her skill set for a post in high school is very rare,” Rojeck said.
The whole skill set was on display during the Sweet Sixteen tournament in La Jolla, Calif.,, She scored 30 on Sam Marcos Mission Hills Dec. 7 in a variety of ways.
Singleton does not fill a stat sheet. Her 5.6 points per game early this season is two points above her previous best.
But studying film or even attending a Tigers game makes one thing clear, Singleton is already a college-level defensive guard — at the high school level she can single-handedly take an offense apart.
“She’s a kid who has a Division I scholarship and free education. And I think she’s averaging three or four points a game. But she is equally as important or more than any scorer. Defensively she can totally disrupt an entire team’s offense. She can absolutely neutralize an opposing team’s guard,” Rojeck said. “She can score more. But with her personality, her biggest concern is getting a shot for the team. She’s one of the most selfless kids I’ve coached. She may not score the points, but she’s the engine behind the offense.”
Rojeck said his two captains are now more than leaders by their play. The last two years, they have been more vocal throughout practice and are truly all about team.
Singleton said this team is so experienced that she and Zelaya do not have to worry about to much.
“The girls we’ve been playing with, we’ve been playing with them for a while so they already kind of know the expectations,” Singleton said.
After she graduates, Singleton will head for Las Vegas. She said the Rebels reached out to her years ago while other teams only started to recruit her after her junior season.
“At UNLV they’re big on defense and I really like that about them. They’ve been recruiting me since I was really young. It really shows they have a loyalty toward me. Their coaches are like family,” Singleton said.
Recruiting for Zelaya ramped up during the club season after her sophomore year.
North Carolina’s womens basketball team is a regular contender, much like the mens. Plus she said she liked the quality of education at the university, as well as the approach of new coach Courtney Banghart.
“At North Carolina, the opportunity to get challenged academically and athletically was really appealing. The energy of the new coaching staff — they have the mindset of doing big things. I want to be a part of that,” Zelaya said.