There was a time not so long ago when Alex Hillyer detested anything to do with basketball.
In seventh grade, her father Vince insisted that Hillyer practice her shooting and dribbling skills every single day.
"I used to cry," the junior said with a giggle. "I really hated it. I just didn't want to do it."
Vince, a successful high school player in the Denver area, remembers those days fondly.
"I told her when she said that she wanted to play basketball that she could do it, but she would have to do it the right way and work hard to become the best player she could be," he said. "For a while, she just didn't want to do that."
Fast forward five years. Now, the girl who cried when told to work on her game, can't imagine life without the round ball.
"There probably isn't a day that goes by where I don't do something that has to do with basketball," she said.
That change in attitude has propelled the six-foot-three inch Hillyer to the top of her sport. She is coming off a breakout campaign in which she helped the Wildcats to a 20-7 record and was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the always-tough Suburban West Conference.
Hillyer averaged 20.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. She blocked 93 shots and became only the fifth player in school history to pass the 1,000-point plateau for her career. Her all-around performance gained her attention from college coaches around the nation. She has heard from 200-plus universities, and is considered a serious NCAA major college prospect.
The 17-year-old will be one of the top post players in the state when the season begins late next fall.
All of this from someone who hated the shooting and dribbling workouts that her father put her through on the driveway basket outside of their home.
"I didn't like it, but I kept doing it," she said. "I wasn't going to quit.
Then, one day, it just all clicked it."
Hillyer is one of the most talented all-around performers in the area. In addition to her ability to dominate inside, she possesses outstanding fundamental backcourt skills. She spent the first part of her career as a point guard before a growth spurt shot her past the six-foot mark prior to her freshman season.
"I used to be 5-8 and loved handling the ball," she said. "Then I got taller, and I had to learn a whole new game."
Hillyer has shown amazing improvement in each of her three seasons under Eureka coach James Alsup. She averaged 6.9 points and 5.0 rebounds as a freshman and improved those totals to 11 points and 6.2 boards as a sophomore.
All told, Hillyer has 1,018 points, 556 rebounds and 246 blocks in 80 games.
The talkative and outgoing Hillyer scored a career-high 32 points in a 65-44 win over Parkway West on Feb. 9. She also guided the Wildcats to the championship game of the Lafayette Regional weeks later.
"She had one of the best seasons in school history," said Alsup. "She did a little bit of everything for us."
The key to Hillyer's success is her strong work ethic. She is constantly looking for ways to improve. Her defensive talents really blossomed this past season. Her size and lengthy wingspan forced opponents to attack the Wildcats from the outside.
Hillyer also sports a wide variety of lightning-quick offensive moves to the basket.
Most importantly, Hillyer pushed her average up nine points from her sophomore season despite being double- and triple-teamed on a regular basis.
"I've still got more to learn," she said. "I'm picking up new things every day."
Hillyer, who sports a 3.5 grade-point average, grew up in St. James, about 90 miles southwest of St. Louis. Her family moved to the St. Louis area before her freshman year. Alsup remembers when he first found out that a six-footer would be moving into the area.
"I gave her a tour," he said. "Showed her the gym, the weight room, the jerseys," he recalled. "I could tell right then that she could end up being something special."
Alsup was right.
Hillyer, who is 61-19 in her high school career, was humbled by the Player of the Year award.
"It's a huge honor, but it's not about me," she said. "The whole team, every player, deserves part of this. I want to thank my teammates because they were the ones who made all of this possible."
Hillyer is hoping to make her college decision sometime this summer so she can concentrate on her senior campaign.
Eureka has come up empty in the regional tournament each of the past three years. Hillyer would like nothing more than to end her high school career with a strong postseason run.
"I can't wait," she said. "I wish the season was starting tomorrow."