MISSION — Surrounded by dozens of family members, friends, coaches, teachers and Valley basketball fans alike, Mission Veterans senior Kaylee Flores, the Rio Grande Valley’s leading scorer, inked her letter of intent to play college basketball at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri, on Saturday afternoon at Balli’s Social Events Center in Mission.

“I’m just really happy and excited,” Flores said. “I’ve been playing since I was little, so to be able to continue my basketball career means a lot. I’m excited to start my new journey with an amazing team.”

Despite the face masks and hand sanitizer bottles decorating the crowd scattered across the room, the overwhelming theme and focus of the day was Flores’ exemplary basketball career for the Patriots and promising future on the hardwood at CMU.

“She’s put a tremendous amount of effort and a tremendous amount of time into becoming the person and player that she is, and we’ve just been lucky to have her in our program,” Mission Veterans head coach Rafael Cantu said. “There’s been a lot of good players, but Kaylee is one of the best.”

“When it comes to Kaylee, I think Kaylee said maybe three words to me in all of high school and I think it was ‘Thank you’ all three times. She has always been very quiet and respectful around me, but respect gains respect,” said David Gilpin, Mission Veterans’ athletic coordinator. “I sat and watched her play basketball for our school quietly doing her job, leading us to championships, leading us to gold balls and leading us to the individual awards that she was able to accomplish this year.

“She’s a heck of a basketball player and probably one of the five best players that have ever come through our school in 18 years. I’d venture to say that and I’m very, very proud to have been a witness to (Flores’) season and journey as a player.”

Flores’ high school career will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the finest in Mission Veterans history.

As a four-year letterman, she and longtime friend and teammate Ronnie Cantu, who will play college ball at DII St. Edward’s University in Austin, formed one of the RGV’s most dynamic backcourt duos and led the Patriots to four consecutive postseason appearances.

She developed a reputation as one of the Valley’s most surefire shooters from deep and frequently buried opponents with her prolific and efficient 3-point shooting. Although the Patriots were one of the Valley’s smaller teams, Flores never let opposing teams forget that she was a big-time playmaker.

“Size doesn’t matter. I’ve always felt like that,” she said. “It’s all about heart. That’s all you’ve got to have is heart.”

As a senior, she averaged 18.4 points, 3.6 steals and 2.1 assists per game and helped the Patriots secure an area-round playoff appearance and a second-place finish in a deep District 31-5A.

Flores earned First Team All-District and District 31-5A All Offensive Team distinction and was named The Monitor’s All-Area Co-Offensive Player of the Year along with her teammate Cantu. The Rio Grande Valley Basketball Coaches Association also recognized her as a Class 5A First Team All-Valley and All-Valley Defensive Team pick and awarded her the RGVBCA Class 5A Offensive MVP.

“When you have shooters like Ronnie and Kaylee, it helps. There aren’t too many substitutes for good shooting,” Cantu said. “We had great leadership from Ronnie and Kaylee and our younger players stepped up big time.”

Flores will be joining one of the top NAIA teams in the country when she takes the court for Central Methodist.

The Eagles, who play in the Heart of America Athletic Conference, went 31-2 and were unbeaten on the road this past season. CMU’s season was cut short right after the sixth-ranked Eagles won their conference tournament and before their first round game in the NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship.

Flores will likely play a critical role for the Eagles early on in her collegiate career, as the team graduates 12 seniors and returns only five underclassmen.

“When I got notified, I couldn’t even process it,” said Flores recalling the moment she received her scholarship offer from CMU. “I froze for a second and then was like, ‘Mom. guess what?’ Then I told her and the house just went absolutely crazy.

“I’m going to want to make the Valley proud and Mission proud. It’s a lot to take in, but I feel like that’ll be my motivation.”