McALLEN — Tani Talamantez has a smile that will light up a dark room. When she gathers with teammates or family and friends, laughter ensues immediately.

But don’t mistake that beaming smile with softness, or her kindness with weakness. She’ll steal from you, break your ankles and make you look silly.

We’re talking on the basketball court of course.

McAllen Memorial’s Tani Talamantez and her sister Cori Talamantez during Tani’s signing ceremony. (Henry MIller | hmiller@themonitor.com)

Talamantez was all smiles, and some tears, as she signed her letter of intent Thursday to play basketball with Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. The McAllen Memorial senior point guard, and The Monitor girls basketball player of the year, said the journey to college began years ago playing basketball with her older brothers.

“I played mainly with D.J. but they were tough,” Talamantez said. “He’d say ‘come on, come shoot around and lets play one-on-one,’ I would really be scared because guys never like to take it easy on girls, but I was his sister so of course he would let me take him to the rim every now and then.

“He has been an inspiration to me. He played here his senior year and dominated so I wanted to into my senior year and leave it all out there, play harder than I even have in the past.”

It showed as Talamantez, who has been the Mustangs’ starting point guard since her freshman year, averaged 20.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.1 steals per game and most of the time she would watch from the bench in the fourth quarter as her team would have a large lead. The banner that stretched along the front of the table during her signing ceremony showed her progression; each year had more awards listed under it and her senior season was undoubtedly her best.

Among those awards, the Texas Girls Coaches Association chose Talamantez for its Class 6A All-State team. TGCA’s All-State team is comprised of the top 40 Class 6A players in Texas.

Last year’s 28-7 OLLU Saints finished 28-7 overall, 16-2 in the Red River Athletic Conference and advanced to the NAIA Div. I National Championship Final Four before falling to Oklahoma City. The team was ranked in the top 15 for the entire season and finished No. 3.

“Not only are they ranked No. 3 but they have a very good psychology program,” Talamantez said, “That’s the area I want to study.”

Talamantez’s dad, Dr. Donnie Talamantez, said Tani started dribbling a basketball as early as 3 years old, “when it was bigger than her.” He recalled a time during a summer track season when the coach came over to him to talk about his oldest daughter, about 6 or 7 years old at the time.

“He said ‘hey doc, your daughter’s the fastest out here,’” Dr. Talamantez said. “I said ‘the fastest girl, that’s great,’ and he said ‘no, the fastest boy or girl,’

“We kind of knew and saw she had something special around that time.”

Not only did Talamantez have her older brothers to guide her, but she has a younger sister, Cori, who plays by her side on the Memorial varsity team. Cori was named the district’s defensive player of the year.

“I’ve played with Cori for 10 years on different teams. She can stop me defensively but she’s scared..scared of my skill,” Tani said with a laugh.

That was a rare moment of smack talk for Tani, whose performance on the basketball court is nothing short of workman like at all times.

“I’m nice on the court. I’m not cocky or give people trash looks,” she said. “I just play the game hard whether winning or losing and stay focused. I don’t let pressure get to me.”

Sounds nice. Just don’t try her one-on-one.