EDINBURG — Brianna Sanchez started her basketball career on the gym floor at the Edinburg Parks and Recreation Department, and it’s also where the Edinburg High senior brought her career full circle by signing to play Division I college basketball in her backyard at UTRGV on Friday afternoon.

“It’s been a rollercoaster actually because there were a lot of other opportunities to be outside of Edinburg, and usually that’s something that somebody would take,” Sanchez said. “But considering that I’m really family oriented, most of my family is here and I consider everybody here my family, it’s something that I had to do. I can’t go on without them because they’ve always supported me no matter what, whether I made a good decision or what. On and off the court, they’ve always been there for me.”

Sanchez was the first Edinburg athlete ever to sign a DI national letter of intent on that court and joins long-time teammate Leslie Martinez as the second Edinburg High senior standout to commit to playing college basketball this season after Martinez signed with Coastal Bend College in Beeville on Saturday evening.

She also becomes the seventh Bobcats basketball star to move on to the next level within the past eight years since the beginning of head coach John David Salinas and his coaching staff’s tenure at Edinburg High.

“I want to say it’s been a little bit easier than usual because I am here and I have my coaches here to help me through the process of talking to my college coaches,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a huge advantage because if I’m so stressed over there in college, I can always come home to them for any help because they’ve been in that situation before with Jayla (Santa Maria) and Briana (Martinez), so it’s going to be a little bit easier of a process for me, I hope.”

Perhaps more significantly, though, Sanchez’s signing with the Vaqueros marks the first time during the Salinas era that a high school hooper from Edinburg’s marquee girls basketball program chose to play major college ball a few blocks down the street.

Sanchez believes her commitment to UTRGV will allow other opportunities for the Valley’s best young girls basketball stars at the region’s premier DI university.

““I think so because (UTRGV) recruits outside of Texas, so now that I’m going to be going there they might open their eyes more to local kids who are wanting to go to college and maybe don’t want to go as far away from home,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity. I can show kids and of course encourage them to come to UTRGV because it is a wonderful school considering the fact that it’s here in the Valley and a beautiful place to attend.”

Sanchez, who also took Edinburg High to the 2019 state track meet as a champion shot putter, starred for the Bobcats basketball program and helped it grow into one of the Valley’s perennial postseason contenders. She played four full seasons of varsity ball for Edinburg High, leading the girls basketball program to a combined 129-30 record during that span.

She credits many of her older teammates, like Briana Martinez and Jayla Santa Maria who play collegiately now at Coastal Bend and Texas Lutheran, for indoctrinating her into their culture of on- and off-court success and guiding her through the recruiting process.

“It’s kind of a relief,” Sanchez said. “I’m going to be able to come up to them and ask, ‘Hey what is this? What’s your college experience been like?’ That way I’ll have a little less stress going into college because I’ll have their knowledge of the college lifestyle and how to be a good student athlete especially.”

Sanchez asserted herself as one of the Rio Grande Valley’s top rim protectors and low-post scorers, and allowed the 2019-20 Bobcats to develop into the state’s top shooting 3-point 6A squad with her command of the floor and passing ability from the top of the key.

She helped lead Edinburg High to back-to-back-to-back-to-back district championships and a 6-4 record in the postseason, including a trip to the Class 6A Sweet 16 during her junior season. Sanchez steadily improved across the board during her four years playing for the Bobcats and became one of the team’s veteran voices by this past season.

She averaged 7.9 points, 12 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game on 53% shooting as a senior at Edinburg High and earned First Team All-District and All Defensive Team selections in District 31-6A.

The Bobcats’ center was also recognized by The Monitor as an All-Area Second Team pick and was chosen by the RGV Basketball Coaches Association as a First-Team All-Valley and All-Valley Defensive Team honoree. But despite her departure, she sees a bright future on the horizon for Bobcat basketball.

“I believe some of our incoming freshmen play post and some of our returning juniors who are going to be seniors I think are going to be promising post players,” Sanchez said. “If they put in the work like we did and do what coach (Salinas) has been telling us, I think they can really be something. I think they could make it even farther in the playoffs than we did this past year, so that’s really something to look forward to.”

Sanchez figures to be an important part of the Vaqueros’ lineup this coming season. Standing at 6-foot-2, she’s the second-tallest among UTRGV’s six incoming players and third-tallest among all the program’s current and incoming players.

She will be able to provide UTRGV with size, rim protection, physical interior defense and a knack for scooping up loose rebounds, all of which were emphasized by Vaqueros head coach Lane Lord when breaking down the program’s incoming recruiting class.

“I went to some of their games and based on what I’ve seen, these girls are fun, outgoing and they all get along with each other, so I think that’s going to fit well with my personality,” she said. “On the court, I feel like we’re going to have great chemistry, too.”

amcculloch@themonitor.com