MERRILLVILLE | There's no time on the court for Merrillville's AJ Downs to take a breather.
The senior guard just can't allow herself to do it.
"To me, I don’t want to leave the floor," Downs said. "I don’t want to get out of the game. I love staying in and playing the game of basketball. Sometimes I (become tired), then I find energy inside me to help me keep going and help me stay on the floor as much as possible."
No, she's not secretly a marathon runner. In fact, she tried track once, but it took too much time away from basketball.
Her effort on the court makes her not only a tough stop, but also tough to take off.
When the Pirates topped LaPorte for the Hobart Sectional title on Saturday, Downs played nearly all 32 minutes.
"She’s had a great season and the one thing we always tell our younger kids is to watch how hard she plays," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "Practice, in a game, she never takes a play off. It would be hard to find another player in this area that plays as hard as she does every second on the court."
Downs is next in line for the guard-dominated Pirates. She follows in the footsteps of Division-I talent Bryonna Davis, All-Star Raveen Murray and last year's grad Dariyan Morris, all Times players of the year.
A contributor as soon as she pulled on a purple uniform, Downs is in a new spot this season with the pressure on her to create plays and score points. Teams aren't ignoring the x-foot-x shooter, and she's adjusted her game as she finds herself double-teamed against a defense.
She is second on her team in points scored and leads with 2.4 steals per game. After this season, she's headed to Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, with the hope of a Division I offer in two years.
"Coming in, I don’t think the pressure was (there), but we had a rough start and when we had some people out the pressure really was put on her at the beginning of the year," Govert said. "She realized how hard it is. She’s the first one to say ‘we can’t do it by ourselves, we need everyone,’ because she’s been in that position.
"She realizes, obviously her points are up, she’s averaging close to 12 a game, but we rely on her to lead us on the defensive end, and if she came into every game thinking ‘oh my gosh, I have to score 25 points,’ then that’s a whole different pressure. She just lets the game come to her. Yeah, she’s had some games where she’s scored 24, and that’s just a bonus for us. She’s relaxed as the season has gone on and as we all got comfortable with each other."
Having fallen to LaPorte earlier in the season, this is the first year in Downs' career at Merrillville that the Pirates entered the sectional as an underdog.
They'll do the same at today's regional, where they'll play host Penn at 9:30 a.m. The Pirates fell to the Kingsmen 70-63 on Feb. 3.
"We kind of like that, we like to be the underdog," Downs said. "It’s a good thing that we’re the underdog and we don’t have a lot of pressure on us."