From out of the ruins, Vanessa de Jesus leads Sierra Canyon in its pursuit of perfection
A picture frame here, a candle there, a few lamps over there -- all have landed in the trash heap, collateral damage in the making of a basketball player.
It was there, in her living room in Valencia, California, that Vanessa de Jesus honed her impressive ball handling skills. She weaved around tables, couches and chairs while dribbling with her right hand as well as her left.
This was her laboratory. But, as sometimes happens, this experiment went awry.
"I wasn't that good when I was younger," de Jesus said. "I was still working on my craft. Some things broke."
Her parents -- Philippines natives Phillip and Maria de Jesus -- didn't get mad. They merely removed items from the living room and moved the furniture out of the way, creating room to nurture her talent.
Today, de Jesus, 17, is a star point guard for 26-0 Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, California. A 5-foot-8 junior, de Jesus leads her team in scoring with 15.9 points per game despite playing just a handful of minutes in several blowouts. She also averages 6.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals.
She has offers from Washington, Gonzaga, San Diego and Columbia, among others.
On Jan. 15, de Jesus had one of her best games, scoring 32 points as Sierra Canyon knocked off annual national title contender Windward (Los Angeles) for the first time since 2015. Windward had won 16 of its previous 18 games against Sierra Canyon, including all four played in 2016-2017.
This time, however, de Jesus hit seven 3-pointers to help justify her school's No. 1 ranking in the CIF Southern Section.
"The toughest thing about Vanessa is how she can create her own shot -- she's crafty," said Alicia Komaki, Sierra Canyon's coach. "She's a great ball handler with natural point guard skills, but she can also catch and shoot."
UCLA recruit and McDonald's All American Charisma Osborne had 23 points for Windward in that loss to Sierra Canyon, but the day belonged to de Jesus.
"Pound for pound, Vanessa is the most complete player in California," said George Quintero, her AAU coach with the Cal Storm. "She has every skill."
Gulping it down
Phillip, a 5-foot-7 analyst for an insurance company, and Maria, a 5-5 nurse, put Vanessa into tennis as her first sport.
"We didn't think she would be very tall," Phillip said. "We thought tennis would be the perfect sport for her."
Vanessa, though, had other ideas. She preferred the teamwork inherent in basketball, and she had a plan for any obstacles that might be in store for her due to her supposedly vertically challenged genetics.
Namely, chocolate milk.
She drinks it in the morning. She drinks it at night. And, most important, she drinks it before games.
"Since I was little, I was always the shortest girl on my teams," de Jesus said. "My parents told me that if I drank milk, it would help me grow. Now I can't live without it."
De Jesus, who also has a younger brother in a family of four, credits milk for the fact that she is taller than her parents. She also said that lack of pregame milk was the cause of her subpar, five-point first half earlier this season in a 67-57 win over Chicago's Whitney Young at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas. (She finished strong with 21 total points.)
When Komaki found out about de Jesus' milk ritual and the possible correlation to a sluggish start, she made sure her star player was fueled up properly for future games.
"Even if we are on the road," Komaki said, "we'll stop at a convenience store and buy her three or four bottles of chocolate milk."
Drawing it up
De Jesus is interested in studying science or medicine in college, so it's no surprise that she takes an analytical approach to basketball.
Quintero, who has worked with de Jesus since she was in second grade, said she is "like a little coach."
Ever since she joined Cal Storm, de Jesus has suggested certain plays for Quintero. Some of them have found their way into Cal Storm game plans.
"I use them all the time," Quintero said. "She will make up plays and say, 'Coach, why don't we try this?' It's cool to see."
De Jesus said she's thrilled when Quintero uses her suggestions.
"It verifies my understanding of the game," she said. "I like to see what works and what gaps are open against certain defenses."
De Jesus played her freshman season at Marlborough (Los Angeles) before transferring to Sierra Canyon for 10th grade. But, due to California transfer rules, she was forced to sit out the first 16 games of Sierra Canyon's 2017-18 season. Alexis Mark, a 6-0 forward, also sat out half the season as a transfer.
Once they were eligible, they were immediate starters, giving Sierra Canyon a boost but disrupting the chemistry as the team finished with a 23-9 record, losing in the regional semifinals.
Mark, who transferred from Village Christian (Sun Valley, Calif.), and de Jesus bonded during that time on the sideline and have become best friends.
"Killer," Mark said when asked to describe de Jesus as a basketball player. "She has a mature mindset."
De Jesus' mature and steady hands will be required on Saturday when Sierra Canyon plays host to Troy (Fullerton, Calif.) in the opening round of the playoffs.
Sierra Canyon seems destined to make a long postseason run.
"Our love for each other is why we're winning," de Jesus said. "We don't care who scores or who gets credit.
"We can't wait for Saturday. Everything we've done so far is to get to this moment."