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Bellport’s Arella Guirantes’ rise to stardom built on faith, family and an unwavering will to succeed

arella 3

Bellport basketball star Arella Guirantes was just 3 when her parents first got a sense of her competitive nature.

Her dad, Rob, was explaining to her why she couldn’t do something. He can’t remember what, exactly — but it probably had to do with Arella being too little at the time.

“She said, ‘I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me,’” Rob Guirantes recalled. “I was like, ‘But you’re 3!’ She was basically telling me to leave her alone.”

Then there was the time Arella taught herself to ride a bike at 5. When her parents asked her how, she replied:

“I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”

To this day, she recites that same mantra, which she first heard in church.

Along the way, she picked up a basketball. 

Her dad, who used to help coach the JV and varsity boys basketball teams in Bellport, didn’t think much at first of Arella’s new passion, leaving it up to her mom, Demetria, a girls basketball coach at Bellport Middle School, to do a lot of the grunt work that comes with introducing a child to a sport.

“My dad used to run open gym nights for the high school basketball players,” says Arella, 17, who led the state in scoring the last two years and was the first seventh-grader ever to play on Bellport’s varsity team. “That’s when the boy’s team was really good. And I used to stay after and I used to beg him to pass me the ball. And he would never pass me the ball.”

“We knew she liked the game but you don’t ever want to push it on a child,” Rob Guirantes says. “You want to let them aggravate you enough where you say, ‘OK, I’ll give you a shot. Let me see if you’re serious.’”

“When Rob saw she was serious, he jumped on board,” Demetria Guirantes says.

Then he took over. And he learned quickly that, rather than telling Arella what she couldn’t do, he had better jump on board in helping his determined daughter be the best at whatever goal she was seeking to accomplish. Because she’d be moving forward, anyway.

That’s also how he managed to become a top-notch personal trainer to his daughter, he says.

“I was always trying to be dad and protector,” he says. “But she kept pushing me for new, more advanced drills. She actually challenged me more than I challenged her, though she didn’t know it at the time. I knew I had to get better at being a trainer. So I did lots of studying, watching and working with other coaches, doing a lot of trial and error, sharing information. I didn’t want to hold her back.”

A Bellport native, Arella would go on to amass 2,251 total varsity points, a record for the Bellport program, among boys and girls. She made headlines across the region and beyond in February after putting up 58 points in a single game against Kings Park. This spring, Newsday named Arella Suffolk’s player of the year for girls basketball.

Maxpreps.com has her listed as the fifth-leading scorer in the nation.

just them in the gym

Arella’s mom and dad both work part-time at the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area, the family’s home away from home.

Or, as Demetria Guirantes says, their actual first home.

“Dinner is usually at the Boys & Girls Club,” she says. “Basically everything is done there. You know that commercial, ‘It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your children are? Well, we know — they’re at the club.”

Most importantly for Arella, that has meant near-continual access to a gym.

“It’s very unique,” says her Bellport varsity coach of six years, Rodney O’Neal. “She had access to the Bellport High School gym whenever she wanted, and she had access to the Boys & Girls Club. It didn’t matter what was going on, kids playing up and down, when Arella was on the court, everything stopped.”

That’s because she has an entire community rooting for her. Many in the Bellport area know that in Arella, there’s something special and they all want her to go out in the world and do great things, O’Neal says.

Arella would run to the Boys & Girls Club every day after classes, or, during basketball season, after practice. Once in the gym, she’d warm up for two hours as she waited for her dad to arrive from work at Verizon Communications. Then the drills would begin, and run for another 90 minutes or two hours.

On most nights, it was just father and daughter on the court.

“Kobe Bryant doesn’t train with 10 people,” Arella explains, clearly having recited this speech before. “He trains with three.”

“And two of them are trainers,” her dad interjects. “You can go to clinics, maybe with 10 other people. Clinics are good. But that’s not going to push you over the top.”

“She’s a product,” he says of his daughter. “And when she’s on the court, she’s a representation of the community of Bellport and all those who helped train her. She’s starting to understand that concept.”

Those people include O’Neill, who first coached Arella when she was in seventh grade.Great Stories | A father, daughter and their quest to be the best 

“She did some things that’s really unheard of” over six years, says O’Neill. “And I got to see it all from the front row. I had the best seat in the house. It was a treat to see her perform surgery on those defenses every time she stepped on the floor.”

This past season, Arella not only averaged 35.4 points a game, but 17 rebounds. She also scored 40 points or more five times her senior year — and five times during her junior season.

“Her stats are not normal,” Rob Guirantes says. He assures it’s not all from raw talent.

“She understands that when she gets out on the court it’s like the art of war, like playing chess,” he says. “She understands style, defenses, points of attack and how to manipulate players. She understands things that a lot of pro players don’t understand. She takes a player’s strength and uses it against them. She’s just advanced. And I’m not saying that because she’s my kid. I’m even harder on her than I would be on the average kid.”

O’Neill says he’s seen her go up against the best competition Long Island and the rest of the region had to offer, and always come out on top.

“A lot of those other girls are one dimensional, but she led us in blocked shots, she led Long Island in rebounds,” he says. “She has all facets of the game in her repertoire, whenever she needed it, she could pull it out.

“It also gets overlooked that she was an automatic two points at the free-throw line,” he continues. “You couldn’t foul her. She went 23 for 25 one game at the line.”

O’Neil says witnessing her dedication in the gym, whether at the school or the club, was remarkable. 

“It’s that old saying, practice makes perfect,” he says. “Well, she was damned near perfect playing for me.”

always about the future

Because the father and daughter have somewhat isolated themselves through their training methods, and as the two explain, don’t “rub elbows” with politically connected coaches and programs in high school girls basketball, they believe Arella was passed over for some of the top national accolades and awards they say can come with political pull.

“To me, the politics,” Arella says, “the McDonald’s All American, the Jordan Classic … that doesn’t mean anything when you get to college. That all gets exposed.”

“I used to always tell her, we never trained for high school,” her dad says. “That ’s why handling high schoolers was never an issue for her. We’ve always been training for the next level.”

As for the next level, Arella’s putting off college career for another year to further improve her game. The 17-year-old will be heading to the elite IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a place where even current and former professional athletes go for training programs. On its website, AMG boasts of training “athletes that have won 131 All Stars, 63 MVP Awards, 22 World Championships, 5 National Titles, 2 Heisman Trophies, 889 Tournaments, 107 Major Championships and 11 Olympic Medals.”

Her dad says he was stunned with her decision to put off college, believing she can play at that level now. She was offered full scholarships from more colleges than any of them can name, including offers from six perennial top 20 programs.

Arella even shrugged off promises from coaches who said they’d red-shirt her during her first season, thereby granting her a fifth season of college eligibility.

She says she wants to be better prepared for the physical aspect of the college game. She also believes the regimented academy in Florida, where she’ll be with other people all focused on becoming better athletes, will help in her transition from Bellport, the only place she’s ever called home.

“It’s gonna be tough, but I know what I need to do,” she says. “I’ll get used to it.”

Arella’s mom says having the option to send her to the academy, where she’ll also be taking college-level classes while getting used to being away, was a comfort. As a concerned mother, she has thought of everything that could possibly derail her teenage daughter’s fledgling life as an adult.

“She would have been such a little fish in a big sea,” at a university, Demetria Guirantes says. “For me, I was concerned with that. And, with her being able to focus, academically, with a Division I course load and having to juggle big-time sports.”

As for her hope for Arella after the year in Florida, she says, “I just want her to make the right decision as far as a college or university. This way she’s not jumping around from school to school. She should do her four years and be OK with that.”

With his daughter’s high school career over, Guirantes says he’s going to take a break from training.

“I’m just trying to figure out whether I’ll really start to go into training, and go into training groups of people, or should I wait?” he says. “But I’m happy, like I said, for her. Sad to see her go, but excited to see her grow.”

Ask Arella what she wants to be when she grows up, and she’ll qualify her answer.

“After I play in the WNBA? Because that’s what I want to do,” she says. “Then, a lawyer.”

mike@greaterpatchogue.com

Photo caption: Arella Guirantes and her father, Rob, in the gym recently at the Boys & Girls Club in Bellport.

Video: Arella training in June at the Boys & Girls Club.

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com