In a basketball sense, San Benito sophomore Denise Martinez is much younger than her age. The first-year varsity player has only three years of basketball under her belt.
Coming from a soccer family, Martinez was persuaded to play basketball during the seventh grade, and three years later SBHS head coach Mitch Burley couldn’t be happier. Through three weeks into the 2012 season, Martinez is already among the Balers top scorers despite coming off the bench.
Despite her early success, the future is even brighter.
“She has the motivation and she really likes the game,” Burley said. “She is a really good soccer player and for her to choose basketball in high school really says something. She really wants to be here. She can go out and play soccer and dominate there to so she enjoys the game and she is really going to learn.”
That learning process has already started to show its results. In the Balers last game before the winter break Tuesday, Martinez had her best game as a Baler against Soquel. Martinez scored a team-high 15 points off the bench as the Balers fell to 4-5 with a 58-41 loss to Soquel.
Martinez’s play, though, was a bright spot for San Benito. Taking control of the ball, Martinez was aggressive at the hoop, drawing three fouls while giving the Balers a much-needed spark. It wasn’t enough for a San Benito comeback, but it was invaluable experience for Martinez, who is still learning the ins and outs of the sport.
“This is going to help me a lot,” said Martinez of the experience. “I’m going to learn many, many things that I haven’t learned. I’m going to keep learning and learning as I go into my junior and senior year.”
Martinez’s basketball knowledge is still limited – she has only played two years on a middle school squad and one year on the San Benito freshmen team a year ago – but with her skill sets, offense has come easy.
“It’s just been really good,” she said. “I never had the chance back then because I just started playing basketball. It’s a great experience playing with higher divisions.”
She continued: “You know, it’s just trying out new experiences. I learned new things from coach Mitch. I learned a lot of new stuff from him and my coach last year. They taught me a lot of stuff I didn’t know.”
Despite her early success, she still has a lot to learn to take that next step, Burley said.
Working with San Benito senior standout Ellie Burley, Martinez is slowly picking up more elements to her defensive game.
“They are both pretty athletic and strong,” Burley said. “I think that helps her a lot. She has a lot of ability. So matched them up all the time in practice for each of their benefit.”
And that practice time – along with help from Ellie Burley and Kim Sparrer – has allowed Martinez to pick up the intricacies of team defense.
“She doesn’t know where to be defensively all the time,” Burley said. “She doesn’t know a lot of things but she has raw talent. She gets the ball and she can take it to the basket. We don’t run anything for her. She just has that ability.”
He continued: “She is just learning. It’s really something to see someone have that type of ability and everything you tell them is the first time they’ve heard it. It will be amazing to see how good she can get and show much she can pick up.”
Martinez knows its still a learning process even when she has success. Thanks to her teammates help, the transition from the freshman team to the varsity squad has been smooth.
“They really have showed me many things in practice when we are running,” she said. “They tell me I have to that. They show really good leadership to the team and that’s what I like about them.”
She continued: “I don’t really know the skills as much as the other varsity girls on the team but I’m still adjusting to them. I’m getting it. Playing in varsity will help me.”
The Balers season continues at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 27 against Santa Teresa in the first game of the Del Mar Tournament.