HOSCHTON -- If one were to look for someone to serve as an ideal model for a student-athlete, Sierra Menzies might be a good subject to start with.
The latter-half of the term will be sternly test when she and the rest of the Mill Creek girls basketball team (11-4) begins a rigorous week with Region 7-AAAAA games against state-ranked North Gwinnett (No. 7) tonight and Norcross (No. 2) on Friday.
But the 5-foot-5 senior has balanced both roles quite well in her four seasons as the Hawks starting point guard.
"She's definitely very coachable," Mill Creek girls coach Ashley Phillips said of Menzies. "She's been a varsity player since her freshman year, partially because she understands the game and is willing to do things like play defense and being a distributor of the basketball -- things that are not necessarily what people dream of doing."
Menzies is good enough to realize her role and to maximize her efficiency in it.
Her numbers -- she's averaging 3.0 points, 3.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.6 rebounds per game this season and 4.0 points, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.7 rebounds for her career -- are somewhat modest.
But make no mistake, she is a major reason the Hawks have posted a 79-28 record, including two Region 7-AAAAA championships and trips to Class AAAAA state tournament each of the last three seasons, since she inherited the starting point guard job from Porsha Porter, who is now at Mississippi State.
And Menzies credits her ability and willingness to learn -- something she's demonstrated often in high school with a 3.9 grade point average and a 1,940 out of a possible 2,400 on the SAT -- for much of her success on the court.
In fact, her more scholarly pursuits were a passion for her long before hoops.
"I'm definitely was the kind of student who would get mad about a B," Menzies said. "I'd rather sit down and read a book than talk to people ... at an early age. I came out of my shell more once I started playing (basketball).
"It's funny because I really didn't start getting into it until maybe middle school. I preferred to sit down and read a book. I'd be reading books at my sister's practices, and the coaches would be like, 'Sierra, do you want to play?' And I'm like, 'No, no.' I played in the park and stuff, but I didn't really start playing seriously until middle school. Once I got into it, I was into it."
It shouldn't be too surprising Menzies eventually found a love of basketball. After all, it runs in her family.
Her father Eric played at California State University-Los Angeles. Her uncle Marvin is head men's basketball coach at New Mexico State University. And her sister Eryka is a junior guard at Augusta State.
All that basketball knowledge close at hand has also given Menzies a resource to become a true student of the game.
"My whole family played (basketball)," Menzies said. "We're just a sports family, I guess, but especially basketball. My uncle, he's helped me as much as my parents have.
"My mom (Allyson) talks to me a lot about being a student of the game. She told me going into eighth grade, 'I'm pretty sure you're done growing.' Especially if you want to play in high school, you've got to learn how to handle the ball."
Phillips has been very pleased with the ball-handling ability -- as well as other skills -- Menzies has brought to the Hawks' program from the day her family moved into the Mill Creek area from California prior to her freshman season.
The timing of her arrival at Mill Creek couldn't have been any better. In addition to succeeding Porter, her skilled complemented and meshed well with teammates who turned out to be big-time, go-to scorers -- first Moneshia Simmons and then Jasmine Carter.
And while her skills are decidedly different from her Porter's, Phillips says Menzies' presence has brought the same continuity and leadership her predecessor displayed, which has been a key to maintaining the program's success.
"She was a freshman the year after Porsha Porter graduated," Phillips said. "We've (been a varsity program) for eight years, and we've had just two starting point guards. They're totally different players, but they're both really good point guards.
"(Menzies is) very good at understanding what's going on. When I'm about to say something, she's already saying it. ... She's a really conscientious person. ... She's always involved in something."
Indeed, Menzies is also involved in other school activities in which her leadership and willingness to help her peers come in handy, such as being part of Mill Creek's student government and TALON (Teach Advanced Leadership and Opening Networks) organization and one of three representatives from the school to the Gwinnett Student Leadership Team.
And as much as she loves basketball, she is planning on her academic life taking priority when she heads to college next year.
However, she hasn't ruled out the possibility of eventually trying to walk on to the basketball team wherever she winds up.
"I see my mom. She attended (Cal-) Berkeley. She was always a good student, and I really look up to her. I guess I like the feeling of getting an A. From there, I think doing well in school kind of fueled (me and told me) I need to do the best I can in everything, not just in school.
"I recently decided I didn't want to play in college. I want to go just for academics. I'm leaning toward Georgia Tech, more than likely, or Duke. I really have thought about (possibly walking on), but I feel like ... the first year, I want to get my feet wet (with the college experience) and see."