Familial bond spurring Heights’ Alvarez to stardom

Heights High School basketball player Gracelynn Alvarez, left, considers her older sister, Gabriela, a mentor both on and off the court. (Contributed photo)

Heights High School head coach Kerrick Arrington said he hasn’t taught Gracelynn Alvarez much of what has made her one of the Houston region’s top girls basketball players over the last few seasons.

“Everything she has, she had it when she got here – the only thing I ever really had to talk to her about was defense,” he said with a laugh.

What Alvarez has is a long list of accolades, thanks in part to a list of supporters that is even longer.

The 5-foot-7, sharpshooting point guard will play in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches All-Star Game on May 13 and was a first-team all-District 18-6A selection this past season after leading the Lady Bulldogs to a 24-5 record and a regional quarterfinal playoff appearance. The Heights senior also was a TABC Class 6A all-state selection.

But those heights had humble beginnings. Alvarez said she followed in the footsteps of older sisters Gabriela and Gabrielle, as well as her father, when she picked up a basketball almost as soon as she could walk.

And though the journey is not yet done, she said her father’s coaching and pickup basketball games with her sisters in the driveway began the process of pushing her to where she is.

“Growing up at my house, we were all competitive, so there were a lot of arguments on the court. It was definitely really competitive, but it builds character,” she said. “It really helped me mentally, too, because nobody’s ever going to be as tough on me as my family.”

Alvarez was also a finalist for the 2021 Anthony Fields Award, given to Greater Houston’s top girls basketball player. And older sister Gabriela, who played college basketball at the University of St. Thomas, said her little sister’s exploits aren’t surprising after watching her grow up with the game.

“Just knowing that she watched me play and that she wanted to be better than me – then seeing her accomplish those things – is really great because where we’re from, not a lot of girls are athletes, not a lot of Hispanic girls make it big,” Gabriela said. “Seeing her get all these awards and going Division I is amazing. It’s really a blessing for my family that she’s able to accomplish all these things.”

But in Gracelynn Alvarez’s mind, she didn’t reach this point alone. She said her family is a major factor in what she has accomplished so far, from her dad’s coaching to her sisters’ tutelage to her mom’s support from the stands.

Her head coach echoed the sentiment – noting that Alvarez essentially has had her own personal cheering section every night over the past four years at Heights – and said that support system helped turn Alvarez into the type of player and person that has been rare since he began at Heights in 2005.

“Having a kid that’s all about basketball, is fun to be around and enjoys their teammates like this is very hard to replace. Off the court, she’s a great kid, man,” Arrington said. “The most important thing for a kid to grow is to have that strong support system.”

The feeling was mutual for Alvarez, who was the leader of a team that reached the first two regional quarterfinals in program history.

“I love playing with these girls,” she said. “Just making history with the people that I love has been the best part.

Uncharted waters

Following that historic run at Heights over the last two seasons, Alvarez is heading to the University of Texas at El Paso to begin her college basketball career next fall. She also hopes to eventually play professionally overseas.

And through the entire basketball journey, she said she has leaned on Gabriela, especially as she prepares to move forward into uncharted waters of juggling college life and her pro aspirations.

“(Gabriela) has been the one helping me through this journey more than almost anyone. She knows how it’s going to be and the amount of work I’m going to have to put in,” she said. “She’s been my backbone in pushing me and keeping me going.”

Gabriela said she has been attempting to help her little sister navigate and prepare for the road ahead, but that the motivation behind her sister’s play is hers and hers alone.

In her mind, Gracelynn’s best is yet to come.

“I feel like her drive comes from the fact that she wants to make it out and make it easier for her family, because she knows our parents worked hard to give us the things they didn’t have,” Gabriela said. “Knowing that basketball can take her further than a lot of other things can is what really drives her.”

Ultimately, Gracelynn knows she’s playing for both her and her family, and that she wouldn’t be where she is without their support – or those driveway pickup games.

“Having that bond really means a lot. They’re tough on me because they want the best for me,” she said. “Everything they’ve done has been to help me get to the point I’m at.”

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