Mater Dei senior Nirra Fields scored 20 points during the McDonald's… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )
Nirra Fields arrived at Santa Ana Mater Dei with two goals.
It was the fourth high school that she would attend, a decision that required her to leave behind her friends and move across the country to California, where she could live under the legal guardianship of Lakers Coach Mike Brown and his wife.
"One of them was to be All-American," Fields said. "Another one was to help my team win a state championship."
Fields, a senior guard, accomplished both of those things. She averaged 22.4 points and 7.1 rebounds this season while leading Mater Dei (34-3) to the Southern Section Division 1AA championship and the team's third consecutive CIF state title. She made the McDonald's All-American team and scored 20 points in the game. And she has been named The Times' girls' player of the year.
"Just knowing that all of our hard work, spending time in the gym instead of going out to chill with friends, just knowing that all of our hard work paid off was really amazing," Fields said.
Fields speaks with a maturity uncharacteristic of her age, which she attributes to being raised in Canada by a single mother while surrounded by six brothers. Fields left home at age 14 to pursue her dream of becoming a basketball star in America.
When Fields was a junior, she was under the legal guardianship of Mike Duncan, an AAU coach in Cleveland. On Thanksgiving Day, she met Brown, the former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. She said there was an immediate chemistry. When Brown and his wife invited Fields to live with their family, she knew that it was an opportunity that she couldn't pass up.
Brown helped take Fields' game to the next level. He hired a personal trainer to work her out at 6 a.m. each morning before the season began. Whenever there was a break in the Lakers' schedule and he could watch her play, he gave her advice on how to be a better defensive player.
"He was kind of like my second coach," said Fields, who averaged 4.1 steals this season.
Mater Dei Coach Kevin Kiernan marveled at the ease with which Fields adjusted to all of the change in her life this past year.
"Coming into a winning program, a high-profile program, it could've been awkward, there could've been road bumps along the way -- there weren't," Kiernan said. "She practiced hard every day, she was so focused. There was never any extracurricular stuff you had to worry about, no drama."
Fields is a player with a deep offensive skill set, who masterfully creates space for herself and has a silky shot. She will attend UCLA next fall and is expected to have an immediate effect.
Fields acknowledged that those high expectations put some pressure on her, but instead of that being an anxiety-provoking prospect, she said it's exciting.
Count it as her next goal.
"I never crack under pressure," she said.