Bountiful • The photographer tried to invoke some intensity from Viewmont basketball star Mercedes Staples, but she just broke into an even wider grin.

“I can’t, like, make a game face,” she laughed.

Staples’ facial expression is more one of focus than of menace on the court, but her 21 points per game this season is intimidating enough on its own. Sometimes that smile will creep back on her face when a teammate scores on one of Staples’ patented one-handed half-court assists, for example.

So despite Staples’ dominating play that has made her the team leader in points, assists (3 per game) and steals (2 per game), Vikings coach Clint Straatman wasn’t surprised at the Clemson commit’s sunny disposition during her photo shoot with The Tribune last week.

“She’s super nice, isn’t she?” he said with a knowing nod. “Unbelievably nice person, cares so much about everybody, very confident. That’s how she is too; she’s not putting on a front. She doesn’t change who she is for anybody.”

Staples, who four years ago was the first freshman Straatman ever started from the beginning of the season, pushed boundaries as a kid as well.

Her parents’ rule was always that their children could join organized sports at age 8, Staples said. Before that, she grew up playing pickup basketball, backyard football and street hockey around the neighborhood with her brother Josh, who is six years older than her, and his friends.

She begged her parents to let her start playing sports early, and they gave in after she turned 7. She chose softball, soccer and basketball.

Staples gave up softball in seventh grade and soccer after her sophomore season, but basketball remained a focal point.

“It’s awesome,” she said about the feeling she gets when she steps on the court with a ball in her hands. “I don’t know, it’s just fun.”

There was that smile again.

When Staples arrived at Viewmont High School, Straatman had started freshmen on varsity before, but never in the first game of the season.

“That was the best move I ever made was starting her first game,” Straatman said.

Even while watching her play in seventh and eighth grade, Straatman saw Staples’ ability to elevate the playing level of everyone around her.

That talent continued through her high school career. Plus she came in doing something he never had seen a high school player do before: slinging one-handed passes practically the length of the court sometimes.

“From Day 1 of me coaching girls basketball, I would never let them make a one-handed pass,” Straatman said. “Until Mercedes. And then when Mercedes started doing it when she was a freshman, I at first kind of told her not to do it, but she was so accurate with it that I just let her keep going.”

The one-handed pass continues to be part of Staples’ repertoire, and she prides herself on, as she puts it, making her teammates look good.

They appreciate it as well.

“When she’s out there on the court, she of course wants to drive for herself,” Viewmont co-captain Melissa Sorenson said, “but she does what’s best for the team, like she gives up a pass.”

Sorenson pointed to her own game-winning free throws against Bingham last Wednesday that were made possible by Staples passing to Sorenson in the paint rather than trying to draw the foul herself.

“She just does whatever is best for the team,” Sorenson said, “and that’s what makes her such a great captain and friend and teammate.”


School • Viewmont

Year • Senior

Position • Guard

Height • 5 foot 11

College commitment • Clemson

Season averages • 21 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals