ATWATER -- Jessica Silva still vividly remembers her sixth-grade basketball tryout at McSwain Elementary.
The Buhach Colony senior said it changed her life.
Silva had grown up playing softball and soccer to that point, and decided to give basketball a try at the suggestion of a friend. Her nerves almost got the best of her.
"I don't know why, but I almost didn't do it because I was really nervous," Silva said. "I'd never played before, so when the coach asked me to make a layup, I said, 'What's a layup?'
"He told me what to do and I was able to do it. I didn't expect to be able to dribble and shoot, but it all kind of came naturally."
A lifetime love was born.
Seven years later, Silva is rarely seen without a ball in her hands or outside of a gym. She honed her craft until she was the Central California Conference's leading scorer and the Sun-Star Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
"After that first season, I just couldn't get away from it," Silva said. "I have to give my dad credit. He taught me how to shoot. And everyday after school I'd go over to McSwain and just shoot for two hours.
"I knew I wasn't going to be tall. I knew I wasn't a great dribbler. But I thought I could be a great shooter and so that's what I worked at everyday."
Despite the late start in basketball, she did just that.
Silva led the CCC with 15.8 points per game and her 66 3-pointers ranked sixth in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Perhaps more importantly, Silva was a gamer.
With the clock winding down and the game on the line, there was no one in the area better with the ball in her hands.
The senior had three game-winning shots in her final campaign, including a four-point play against Pitman in overtime that started the Thunder's march toward a second straight CCC championship and the school's first outright title.
As big as that shot was, no shot stands out in Silva's mind as much as her winning 3 at Merced.
Like most teams this season, the Bears threw a box-and-one defense at the Thunder, with the one shadowing Silva.
Merced executed its game plan better than most teams, limiting Silva to 12 points going into the final minute of the game.
With the game tied in the final seconds, Brandy Coward stole the ball, and after fumbling it for a second, found Silva on the top right of the arc. She collected herself and drained the game-winner as time expired.
"I think that game more than any other exemplifies what kind of player Jessica was," BC coach Shane Gentry said. "Merced did a great job keeping the ball away from her all night, but all she needed was that one chance. She took it."
Gentry has seen Silva develop at an accelerated rate as she helped Buhach go from a two-win team as a freshman, to hosting the school's first home playoff game.
"I wish I had five just like her," Gentry said. "I've never seen a kid come as far as she has in such a short amount of time.
"But it makes sense because she's always in the gym. We'd have our two-hour practice and then I'd go to my office and do something. When I come back, Jessica is still there working with the JVs and shooting. You come back a couple hours later and she's there working with the freshmen.
"You want to tell her to go home and do some homework, but that's the kid she is."
Silva was able to do it all as her grades and play have elicited a number of offers from Division 2 and 3 colleges as well as NAIA schools.
"The one thing I know is I want to go play on the East Coast," Silva said. "I'd like to play Division 2, but since I'm going out of state I have to see which school can offer me the best deal.
"I decided when I was a freshman that if I was going to school I wanted to play something. Basketball seemed like the best chance to make that happen.
"It's just kind of crazy I've been able to do it."
Sun-Star's All-Area Girls Basketball Team
Guard: Lexi Thompson, Merced, Frosh
Guard: Allison Wisdom, Buhach Colony, Junior
Center: Dalonna Jones, Merced, Junior
Guard: Mayra Mora, Atwater, Junior
Guard: Shea Williams, Mariposa, Junior
Forward: Jordan Lasiter, Chowchilla, Senior
Guard: Tekerra Borden, Merced, Senior
Guard: Alexis Barcellos, Los Banos, Senior
Forward: Oliviah Gemperle, Hilmar, Senior
Forward: Brandy Coward, Buhach Colony, Soph.
Coach: Shane Gentry, Buhach Colony