“I watched her play in fourth grade,” said girls basketball Coach Kelly Smith. “She dominated, even though she was small, she was skilled, that’s when I knew she was going to be special.”
AJ Dela Cruz could be described in the same way her senior year as she was in fourth grade; small, skilled, and dominant. She is now a four-time region champion, a member of Alaska’s all-state team (third team), and is recognized as one of the best shooters in the state of Alaska.
Despite her accolades, AJ was forced to watch from the bench as her team lost to Dimond in the state semi-finals last season. Her ACL betrayed on a simple jump stop late in the season against Juneau.
“It felt horrible missing regions and state last year,” said Dela Cruz. “I had played basketball with those seniors from 6th grade on, so it hurt at first, but it was good to see them still playing well.”
AJ is also not just about All-Conference this, and All-State that; she makes a big impact for her team off of the court as well.
“Her passion for not just basketball, but life is contagious,” says Coach Smith when asked about AJ off the court. “I am proud to get the chance to not only coach her, but to know her as a person. She is a class act.”
When she came back to the court this year, it wasn’t an immediate success, but as she slowly built up confidence in her leg and in her skills, she became the short, dominant force again.
“At first I was just excited to be back there and win,” said Dela Cruz. “We didn’t win my first couple games, but we eventually got to where we wanted to be and started winning.”
Kayhi went 7-1 down the stretch to win the region title. At the state tournament AJ averaged 15 points and ended her career with 21 points in a loss to Chugiak. Most basketball players don’t get the chance to go to state four years in a row and be all-state after a potential career ending injury. AJ Dela Cruz has done it all during her four years as a Lady King.