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Family, focus driving Desert Mountain’s Rayah Craig

Duke commit Rayah Craig is set for her senior year state tournament. (Photo courtesy Alicia Sanchez)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Desert Mountain High School girls basketball team has not lost a game since before Christmas. With only one game left in the regular season, the team is confident it can contend for the first state championship in school history. On a 14-game win streak and up to third place in the 6A division, the Wolves are following behind their senior star point guard Rayah Craig.  

Ranked No. 93 on ESPNW’s 2018 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings list, the point guard is a self-proclaimed basketball nerd who is committed to play for Duke at the next level. Craig consistently fills the stat sheet and plays hard on both ends of the court. Known as a team player, she also brings a fun and enthusiastic attitude onto the court in practice and games that helps the team play loose and perform their best.

It is hard to ignore that the Wolves’ success has coincided with the development and maturation on the court of Craig. The energetic point guard has been described as a natural born leader by her future coach at Duke but still does not want to grow content in her role as the head of the team.

“The thing I want to work on the most is probably just anything I can do to become better as a leader,” Craig said. “A lot of positions or teams that I’ve been put on, I’ve been put in positions where I have to be a leader and I just wanna be the best I can be.”

Part of that determination and mentality derives from Craig’s homelife. Her father has been a C-5 quadriplegic, meaning he is still able to breath and speak on his own, for about a dozen years. Even with his disability, Rayah credits him for her success and hardworking attitude.

“Even though he hasn’t been able to be there physically, like most dads do teaching their kids to play, he’s definitely been a big part of making me the player who I am today. I would not be that without my family,” she said.

Barnaby Craig was going to help his daughter achieve her goal of making the WNBA in any way that he could, including having her compete against boys up until she was 14 years old. After a motocross accident in 2005 he has pushed hard to remain healthy and to be involved in his daughter’s basketball career.

“I believe she’s seen how hard I’ve worked and she thinks that if dad can push hard, I can too. It’s made her resilient and able to push through anything. And that’s just her mindset,” he said. “She has a passion for basketball that I haven’t seen in a kid ever.”

That passion brings a fire to her game and is translating onto the court for the Wolves this season.

“She’s very aggressive,” coach Alicia Sanchez said. “She wants to get in the paint and score and she wants to create for everyone else. She just wants to create and do things for the team.”

A former Central Arizona College player who led her 2009 team to a perfect 35-0 season, as well as the NJCAA National Championship, Sanchez has been around Arizona basketball her entire life. Having grown up in Peoria, the former Sunrise Mountain High School player went on to play two years for the Vaqueras before finishing her playing career at Wichita State. With all of that experience, the respected young coach has taken notice of Craig’s unique abilities.

“It’s not like I’ve seen in Arizona in a while what Rayah can do,” Sanchez said.

Since joining the varsity team her sophomore year, Craig has increased her scoring each season. Last week, she went over 1,500 career points for her high school career. Now averaging 18.2 points per game, the senior says that her scoring prowess did not appear until her Desert Mountain career began.

“Normally, in the past, I wasn’t really a scorer,” Craig said, “I was mainly the point guard, floor general type of person telling people what to do. Once I got here is kind of when my scoring just came out.”

Sitting at 22-5 and ranked No. 4 in the state, Desert Mountain is laying low heading into the state tournament. Currently undefeated in the 6A Desert Valley region, there has not been much attention placed on the first-place Wolves.

“I don’t think it’s popular enough,” Sanchez said about girls basketball in Arizona. “I think it’s coming around but I don’t think people pay much attention.”  

Senior Alana Kelley agrees with her coach. “It’s definitely disappointing,” she said.

Whether people are paying attention or not will not matter to Craig.

“I definitely want to be an impactful player coming in as a freshman and I just want to lead my team to a championship, and that’s it,” Craig said, “Duke’s never won.”

“They’ve made it pretty far but they’ve never won and I’d like to be the first person to help take that title.”

Her father knows that attitude well.

“She’s always reaching over the top.”

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