Alpha Sirleaf really wanted to be a basketball player.
But during his first two years, he admits, he wasn’t there yet.
Sirleaf is a senior at Northeast High School and he got a late start in his hoops career. He didn’t start playing until he was in eighth grade, and even then it was mostly pickup games for fun.
He joined an organized league midway through his eighth grade school year, and then he tried to make the Northeast team as a freshman.
He gave it his all. It wasn’t enough.
He tried again sophomore year. Once again, he put everything he had into making the team. But when uniforms were handed out, he didn’t get one.
Junior year, he didn’t try because of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If you think he gave up, you truly don’t know much about Sirleaf. Instead of quitting, he worked extra hard and gave it another try this year.
He’s not just on the team, he’s a starter who contributes every game.
“I never really thought about quitting, because if I did, I wouldn’t just be quitting basketball, but I’d be quitting on myself and I don’t want to do that,” said Sirleaf, who lives in Rhawnhurst and played in various leagues around his neighborhood to prepare for high school basketball. “I loved playing. When I was in eighth grade, I thought it was just running up and down the court and playing, but as I played on more teams, I realized how much more there was to it. It’s hard to be a good basketball player. I had to work at it.”
Sirleaf now starts for a team that has high hopes in making a run in the Public League this year. He’s a 6-foot-1 forward, which means he’s routinely up against guys who are much bigger than he is. Still, he has a job to do. He knows exactly why coach Steven Novosel calls his number. He has a role and he’s going to make sure he fills it to perfection.
“I have to crash the boards, get rebounds and play defense,” Sirleaf said. “I know why I’m there. I am not a scorer and that’s good. I’m a role player. This team has a lot of role players and we all know what we have to do. If we play our role well, we can win a lot more games than if we just do whatever we want.”
That’s not to say Sirleaf doesn’t have skill.
In playing during the summer, he’s developed some offensive moves and he’s learned to be a playmaker. And when the situation calls for it, he can bring those skills to Northeast, which makes the team tougher to defend. But he’s there to help the team more than anything.
“We have such a good team, I just do what our coaches tell us to do,” Sirleaf said. “Our coaches don’t care as much about winning as they do the students, the players. They push us to be better because that’s how we’ll become better people, and players. And if we do that, we’ll win more games.”
Sirleaf might be new to varsity basketball, but he has being a great teammate down.
In fact, early in the season he has worked in as a captain despite not having a lot of experience as a player. That leadership stems from being a dogged worker who willed himself on to the varsity team.
“I’ve talked with coach about getting cut, and i know why I was cut,” Sirleaf said. “I really wanted to get to play. I’ve always liked basketball and I wanted to be part of the team. So all the work was worth it.”
Sirleaf has the same attitude off the court that he has on it.
He excels in the classroom, where he has advanced-placement courses and he recently got a job as a busboy at Olive Garden.
Next year, he hopes to continue playing basketball in college. He might have to walk on to a team, but he’s optimistic he’ll have a great career both academically and athletically.
“I do pretty well in school and I know I definitely want to go to college,” Sirleaf said. “I’m looking at either studying software engineering or civil engineering. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been pretty good with technology and computers and I’m good working with my hands. I do well in school, so I think it will be a good major for me.”
If he attacks school like basketball, he’ll be in fine shape.
Now he just hopes his basketball team has enough to make his only year of playing for Northeast a memorable one.
The Public League is good, and Northeast is off to a 5-4 start, but he believes the best is yet to come.
“I think we have enough to go really far,” Sirleaf said. “We’re getting better. Everyone on this team knows their role. We have great role models and great role players. We’re all working for the same thing. I really think if we do what the coaches tell us, we can go to the chip.”