Story by COREY MCMULLEN
Photos by JOE GIDDENS
For most teams, losing a leading scorer is a setback.
With Pima’s all-time scoring leader Jacqulynn Nakai gone, the Aztecs were without a point guard unless you asked head coach Todd Holthaus, who knew he had someone ready to take over. That person is Aztecs’ point guard Alyssa “AP” Perez.
Perez, entering her sophomore season for the Aztecs, has been the leader the Aztecs needed for this year’s young squad, which is returning only four players from last year’s No. 5-ranked team.
Perez started playing basketball in the seventh grade. She wanted to try it out because her dad played in high school and they would go play at the park. Perez, an only child, was born and raised in Tucson.
In her free time, Perez and her family love to go to the sand dunes or the lake to go wakeboarding (which drives her coach crazy).
Her dad is one of the main reasons Perez got into basketball and now is the head varsity coach at Marana High School. Perez tries to be at as many of his games as possible like he does for her. Perez never played for her dad. That was an agreement they both came up with where he would step back and allow her to earn everything on her own. Perez father was the JV coach while she was on the varsity team.
“It was just active nonstop, fast pace, always moving around,” Perez says when describing what she loved about the game so much.
Perez tried playing volleyball and softball, but the games were too slow for her.
Toward the end of her junior season, Perez and her dad would go to the YMCA every Sunday to play pickup games. One Sunday, Perez and her dad were on their usual Sunday routine when she tried to drive the lane for a layup when a guy went to block it. She came down “weird,” as Perez put it, and she felt the pop.
Sure enough, Perez received an MRI and found out she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus. Perez was out for seven months, but she was back for her senior season missing only seven games.
After being recruited by a few different schools, most turned their backs on Perez once they found out about the knee injury. Holthaus didn’t, though.
“I knew she was tough, one thing I admire in people in toughness and loyalty,” Holthaus said. “I knew she’d get through the rehab and come back better than ever, and I was right.”
At the beginning of her freshman year at Pima, Perez was thinking about quitting the team.
“I was struggling mentally; physically I felt I wasn’t producing how I could of,” Perez says.
Being frustrated in some early rough games and missing family, the transition from high school to college athlete started to take its toll on Perez.
“You are not quitting because this is tough stuff and a year from now, you’ll be running the show,” Holthaus says about his conversation with Perez when she wanted to quit. “And again I was right.”
Because this year’s team only returned four players, which meant Perez had to be a leader on the court but being able to help the younger players off the court making the change from high school to college.
Aztec forward Tyra Do says Perez has excelled in her leadership role.
“She keeps us organized on and off the court very well,” Do says. “She’s someone you can go to if you’re having personal issues. AP is very tough on and off the court. She’s the kind of player even when she’s hurt, she’s not going to say anything.”
Perez doesn’t look for individual glory. For her, winning is the only thing that matters. Her focus is on winning a national title.
“I don’t care how many points I score as long as we get the win that’s what matters to me,” Perez says.