Moms noticed her first.
Wearing No. 89 in her red, white and blue East Thunderbirds jersey, Alissa Pili tore through the offensive line in an otherwise all-boys tackle football league. Pili, a powerfully built defensive lineman, led her Boys & Girls Club football league team in sacks and gained a following.
"I don't think they were expecting a girl to be playing so well against boys," Pili said. "They would come up to me after games and tell me they loved watching me beat the boys."
Pili, who recently turned 15, hasn't played football in nearly two years. But the 5-foot-11, 240-pound power forward brings the same physicality to basketball, and she is a star for A.J. Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska. She averaged 18.3 points and 11.7 rebounds as a freshman last season.
"I've been coaching for many years, and Alissa is a special athlete, the type we haven't had in Alaska," Dimond coach Jim Young said. "So strong for her age. Alissa can rep 135 pounds eight times on the bench press. And she played tackle football against boys from the third through the eighth grade. Coaches I talked to said she was as mobile and strong as any boy she went up against."
As good as she was in football, basketball is Pili's passion. As a freshman last season, she led Dimond to the Class 4A state championship game, in which the team lost 44-40 to Wasilla High School. Pili had 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks -- all game highs -- and she had a putback with 80 seconds left to cut Dimond's deficit to 42-40.
That was as close as Dimond got, and Pili tasted disappointment in the biggest game of her life so far.
"It was really emotional," Pili said. "We worked so hard."
Pili should have more opportunities at state. She was one of two freshmen on the five-player first-team all-state squad. The other was 5-foot-9 guard Olivia Davies of Wasilla. Those two happen to be AAU teammates with the Alaska Lady Hoops.
"We have a lot of love for each other," Pili said. "Losing state to her didn't ruin anything."
Davies said she's a fan of Pili and her versatile game.
"She can bring the ball up the court," Davies said, "and then she can be a beast in the post."
Train with me
The second of Billy and Heather's seven children, Pili, who has four brothers and two sisters, has seemingly always been an athlete.
Pili, who is of Samoan and Alaskan Native ancestry, grew up wrestling her older brother, Brandon. That's no easy task. Brandon, 17, is 6-foot-4, 315 pounds and a defensive end for Dimond's football team.
In addition to football and wrestling, Pili's other "hobbies" include volleyball and track and field. She earned first-team all-state honors in volleyball and won an Alaska title in the shot put in an incredible freshman year.
Pili was so dominant that two basketball players on other teams asked if they could train with her this summer, thinking there must be some secret to her success. Pili invited those girls to play with her dad, brothers and cousins -- all male -- in her rough-and-tumble cul-de-sac basketball games. Perhaps intimidated, the girls never showed.
It was their loss because the Pili Plan is working. She has received recruiting interest from schools such as Washington State, Washington, Utah, South Carolina and Fresno State.
Ryan Hales, who coached Oregon-bound Ruthy Hebard, the state's three-time Gatorade player of the year, on the Alaska Lady Hoops, figures to build his team around Pili this season.
"Alissa can have people hanging off her arms and still find a way to finish," Hales said. "She can play any position. She can cross you over, shoot the 3 and then hold her ground in the post. I can't think of anyone to compare her to. She's uncommon in the way she moves."
Hales said he had to beg Pili's parents to let her play with his team this past spring and into the summer. The Pili family is close, and they go on family camping trips in the summer. They hike, they fish, and they enjoy the great outdoors and the breathtaking scenery Alaska has to offer.
But once Pili got the go-ahead from her parents, she went to a tournament in Oregon and led Alaska Lady Hoops to second place in their pool. Hales said Pili had 28 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to a loaded Cal Stars team. She also had her shot blocked a few times by the taller Cal Stars players, who were keying on her.
With a 3.5 GPA, Pili is interested in studying engineering in college. Singing is also among her seemingly endless list of talents. Her teammates say she can belt out Alicia Keys and Beyonce.
She almost always hits the right notes. That's especially true on the basketball court, where Pili's power is a source of intimidation, inspiration and sometimes even imitation.
Jahnna Hajdukovich, one of her AAU teammates and the owner of one of the greatest buzzer-beaters in basketball history, said other kids want to test Pili's strength.
"Everyone likes to wrestle her or play fight," Hajdukovich said. "I can't tell you what happens because it's kind of like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club. ... But I can tell you that no one can beat Alissa.
"She's a rock -- crazy strong."