Not too long ago, the prospect of joining the armed forces was a far-fetched idea to Aliyah Murray.
When asked if it was something she'd been thinking about since she was little, Murray chuckled.
"I mean, it's just not something I'd considered," she said.
That changed quickly, though, when she found out that the armed forced were considering her.
About a year ago, West Point - the United States Military Academy, which counts Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower among its ultra-prestigious alumni - contacted Murray about playing for its women's basketball team.
"No one in my family has ever really been in the army," said Murray, the senior point guard for the Delran girls' basketball team. "But I just thought that to even be considered by them is a great honor. It's the kind of opportunity that will have a lot of benefits down the road. Plus the facilities are great, the coaches are great, everyone there is just awesome. I couldn't pass it up."
Maybe it's fitting that Murray is bound for an institution that has produced some of the country's greatest leaders. Because so far this season, she's been as much of a leader as any player in South Jersey girls' basketball.
"She's our go-to kid," said Delran coach Pete Miles. "We're asking her to do everything this year. And she's delivering."
Through three games, Murray is among the leading scorers in South Jersey.
She is averaging 18.3 points while generating equal production as a rebounder and one of the most tenacious defenders in South Jersey.
"I can't really think of anything that she has trouble doing on the court," Miles said. "She has incredible hands, quick feet, and a long body. She's a great defender. And on top of that, she's developed a nice perimeter jump shot to go with a strong inside game."
Murray is the lone returning starter from a team that made it to last year's South Jersey Group 2 title game.
On that team, Murray - a 5-foot-10, lengthy, natural athlete - was the type of player more comfortable fighting for rebounds, blocking shots, and coming up with steals than scoring points.
This year, she has moved from forward to point guard, a switch meant to increase her impact on the team while preparing her for West Point, where she will likely see time at guard. The move placed Murray out of her comfort zone, but it hasn't stopped her from thriving both in her play and in her leadership of the team's new starters.
"I don't really consider myself a scorer," Murray said. "I'm used to passing - kind of dribbling and dishing. So I'm still trying to get a feel for what I have to do. But it's great that I have been able to have confidence in the girls around me.
"I just try to keep everyone positive and confident."
That style is already paying dividends. Delran is 1-2, but has improved in each of its three games. After dropping their opener to Westampton Tech, the Bears topped rival Holy Cross on Dec. 20 before giving perennial state power Trenton Catholic all it could handle in a 46-35 loss on Saturday.
In that game, Murray grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots, made seven steals, and netted 17 points, including 10 during the fourth quarter, when the Bears cut TCA's lead to five.
It was a sign of the poise, confidence, and leadership that makes Murray a natural fit for her new role with the Bears - and for the one that likely awaits her at West Point.
"Our chemistry is getting better on this team, and everyone is finding out what they can do well," Murray said. "I just want to help us make it as far as we can this year and help the younger girls get ready for next year."