Dimond's Alissa Pili is a larger than life presence and this week was named Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year / Photo credit ASAA
It was supposed to be a secret ceremony, but Alissa Pili knew something was up.
Too many familiar faces were on hand to watch the Dimond girls basketball all-star in action for this not to be a special occasion.
“I was wondering why my whole family came to the game,” she told me with a laugh.
They were there because Lynx coach Jim Young honored his two 1,000-point scorers, Pili and Jahnna Hajdukovich, in a ceremony where he presented each all-state player with a commemorative plaque.
Eclipsing 1,000 career points before the end of her sophomore season was just one of many awesome accomplishments Pili pulled off this season.
She also won Cook Inlet Conference MVP honors for the second year in a row, making her the first underclassmen to win the award twice.
And then on Monday she was named Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year for the first time, and in doing so became just the second sophomore to garner the honor since Gatorade started awarding state winners in 1986.
“I don't really focus on my individual awards and I would trade them all for a state championship,” she said.
The 6-foot forward will chase that elusive title at next week’s ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Class 4A Basketball State Championships in Anchorage, where the Lynx are seeded No. 2 behind defending champion and No. 1 Wasilla.
Last year, Wasilla beat Dimond 44-40 in the state championship game despite an excellent 14-point, 9-rebound, 2-block effort from the then-freshman.
As Dimond’s best player, Pili took the loss extremely hard and was seen crying on the bench in a tender moment that epitomized agony of defeat.
Winning is important to the talented 15-year-old because she plays for others and because great individuals are ultimately defined by team titles.
“It’s all about the success of my team,” she said.
Led by Pili, Dimond has won 27 of 29 games this season. She is averaging a team-best 25 points and 14 rebounds per game, thanks largely to a college-ready post game that showcases her size, strength and creativity.
“Last year I got most of my points from getting rebounds and putting them back up,” she said. “This year I still get most of my points from doing the same thing, but I also score a lot from my team getting me the ball inside more.”
Pili is no longer just a big body overpowering opponents for points and rebounds.
She manages to dominate around the basket without having an above-the-rim game, which is a credit to her ability to create space for open shots on offense and her mobility to grab loose balls and avoid fouls on defense.
“I’ve gotten faster about making a move before everyone crashes down on me,” she said.
Defenders typically converge on Pili once she touches the ball, yet she possesses the skills and strategy to be effective when facing double and sometimes triple teams.
“In my opinion, a great player is mentally tough and just dominates everyone but is also a team player,” she said. “I also think a great player has to have consistency.”
There’s no doubt Pili is the best player in Alaska.
She is nationally ranked among forwards for the Class of 2019 and has already received a scholarship offer from a NCAA D1 school.
She’s on pace to pour in more than 2,000 points for her career.
She’s a mismatch for opponents on every possession – too quick for posts, too strong for guards; too hard to guard for anybody one-on-one.
“Honestly, Alaska competition is not testing me very well,” she admitted.
“How I improve my game is playing with men. Playing with them makes me stronger and a better player because physically boys are a lot faster and stronger than girls. It also helps me be smarter about my decisions on the court because of the pace the boys play at.”
Her defense, passing and ballhandling skills are catching up with the rest of her game to make her an even more dangerous playmaker because now she can score and defend at all five positions on the court.
Her hoops resume is as good, if not better, than the first two high school seasons of any Alaska player in the last 30 years.
The only thing missing is a state title.
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.