During her sophomore year, Berenice Martinez remembers all of the people who had only negative things to say to her.
“There were some people at school trying to put me down,” the San Benito High senior guard said. “They told me I couldn’t do this or do that, but I overcame that. I told myself I could do this and prove I’m capable of playing basketball well and moving forward.”
And that’s exactly what Martinez has done. Martinez has proved the haters wrong with a breakout season for the Haybalers, who entered the Del Mar Tournament Wednesday with a 6-3 record. Martinez is one of the Baler’ top scorers and 3-point shooters, and she’s improved in every facet of the game from last season.
“I think overall I’m doing better with moving the ball and finding the open girl,” she said. “I feel like my shooting is better than what it was last year, and as a result I’m shooting a lot more this season.”
That took some adjusting, however. Martinez has always had a pass-first mentality, but she’s learned that sometimes the best shot for the team is when she’s taking it. Plus, Balers coach Mitch Burley has encouraged Martinez to take open shots. Even though Martinez can light it up from the outside, she’s also adept at getting to the basket off dribble penetration. She had a season-high 15 points in a game earlier this season, mostly coming off a variety of drives and open outside jumpers. At 5-foot-3, Martinez knows the importance of positioning and using screens to shake her defender.
“It’s harder for someone like me to shoot over a lot of girls, so I have to work hard with and without the ball to get open,” she said. “I have to find a way to get around them or create space for myself so they don’t have a chance to block my shot.”
Martinez only started playing organized basketball in the eighth grade, but thanks to her cousin, former Balers standout C.C. Vasquez, Martinez has made meteoric strides in her game. Burley said he has been thoroughly impressed with Martinez’s play.
“She knew very little about basketball until C.C. turned her on it,” Burley said. “She has really grown in her basketball acumen over the last couple of years. Typically she is very quiet, but on the court she is extremely loud. Her hustle and toughness make her fun to watch. The other day she dove over an opposing player to create a jump ball without touching the player. I asked the team if they saw ‘Ninja Berenice’ make that play.”
Vasquez, who is now playing at Gavilan College, always offers helpful advice and tips to Martinez, who is more than willing to listen and learn.
“C.C. will always come to me and tell me what kind of drills they’re doing at Gavilan,” Martinez said. “She’ll show me certain things that she thinks will help me, like drills to help me handle the ball better. I end up trying those things on my own. C.C. is a good role model, is positive and always gives 100 percent. She’s just amazing and helps motivate me to keep going.”
Martinez said as an eighth grader she had no clue what basketball was about. While it took some time for her to learn the rules of the game and the fundamentals, she had a deep desire to improve in a sport she was quickly falling in love with.
“I would go to the park with my cousins and just play as much as I could,” said Martinez, who also credited her uncle, Miguel Vasquez, for teaching her the basics of the game. “
Despite her lack of experience, Martinez was named a co-captain on the Balers’ freshmen team three years ago.
“I didn’t see that coming, but I used it as an opportunity and saw it as a positive thing,” she said.
Martinez loves the makeup of this year’s team, noting the superior talent level and chemistry compared to last year’s squad. In particular, freshman sensation Kaiya Dickens has made quite an impression, playing a game few freshmen in the entire Central Coast Section can rival.
Dickens’ impact has helped the Balers in every facet of the game.
“I feel like this year we’re communicating better, working harder in practice and giving each other more helpful instructions in practice and in the games,” she said. “We’re more vocal with each other, and that makes it more easier to know where everyone is on the court.”