When Zelor Massaquoi first set foot on the court as a freshman looking to cut her teeth with the Reservoir varsity squad, coaches weren't sure what to expect.
Her body type and 5-foot-7 frame didn't exactly fit the traditional basketball mold for any one position, not to mention that her maturity on the court needed some work.
Simply put: Massaquoi was a project, and nobody knew that more than the young woman herself. The raw talent was clearly there, but that uncertainty when it came to her place on the team created a chip on her shoulder that grew every time she felt disrespected.
"I was trying to prove to everyone else that I was better than they were, without actually working on it," she said. "I wasn't playing for my team. I was doing it for myself."
A lot of work, dedication and coaching went into shaping Massaquoi into who she is today. This season, all that effort finally paid of.
After scoring her 1,000th career point, the Grand Canyon University recruit can add one more distinction to her record before her high school career is up: Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.
"It's an honor for me, and it's my way of saying 'thank you' to those people who helped me along the way," she said.
After playing sparingly off the bench in her first year, the double-double machine's tenure truly began in a playoff game against Atholton – her first taste of postseason action. An injury provided the opportunity, and Massaquoi didn't waste it, notching 22 points and 17 rebounds for the Gators.
From there, coach Kyle Sullivan said she only continued to work on her game, all the while becoming the best teammate she could be.
"She was able to think of the big picture," said Sullivan, who joined the Reservoir staff in Massaquoi's freshman year. "She was able to understand what we were trying to do, and what it takes to do that."
Having been overlooked for first-team all-county honors as a sophomore, a true test of character came the next season, when the coaches failed to select her as the county's Player of the Year – a distinction she felt she earned.
The omission lit a fire inside her, and by the time her senior year came to a close, there was no doubting her position as the most elite player in Howard County.
"I went back in the gym, and this time around, I hit it with this fury," said Massaquoi, recalling those long summer days filled with wind sprints and three-hour training sessions. "I just know that, no matter what, I gave it every ounce that I had."
The Gators had high hopes of competing for both county and state titles this season. Although they ultimately fell short, Massaquoi's service on the court was hard to ignore. Averaging a county-best 21.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, Massaquoi's tenacious presence on the court was a nightmare for opposing coaches game after game.
The best part, according to Sullivan, was watching that maturation produce results. No longer purely an inside player, Massaquoi's ball handling skills allowed her to create opportunities that, in her freshman year, were never there.
Her midrange jumper became a staple part of her game, which forced defenders to play up in the zone and, for the most part, out of position. She also took on the role of point guard in a few high-pressure situations.
Her performance on the court continued to improve throughout high school, as did her athleticism and strength. Still, it was her leadership amongst her peers that Sullivan said could be one of her more admirable qualities.
"She got learning experience from being a leader and being accountable," said Sullivan, who added that the small forward relished that opportunity.
That relationship with her teammates grew into something special, and Massaquoi knows she wouldn't have gone far without them.
Citing fellow senior teammates Blair Bonner, Keri Rager and Tara Thompson, Massaquoi said she shares the glory with those who helped her along the way.