It's hard to truly measure Sam Mitchell's meaning to Montini's basketball team this year.
But here's one indication.
When the Lady Broncos had leadership issues early in the season, the players were asked to privately turn in a piece of paper with who they thought the leader of the team was.
Mitchell, a junior on a team with three senior Division I recruits, got every vote.
Including her own.
"That's how much she meant," Montini coach Jason Nichols said. "I love Sam, it's no secret. She's one of my all-time favorite players. She's so coachable, so respectful. She's just a great kid."
Nichols, then, knows that Alabama-Birmingham is getting a good one.
Mitchell, an All-Area point guard for the Class 4A runner-ups, made her verbal commitment to UAB while on a visit to the school this past week.
"We'd been talking for about a year now. It was a huge decision, and of course it always is," said Mitchell, a Downers Grove resident. "It came down to the little things. I felt like I could call it a second home. As soon as I walked on campus, got to know the coaching staff along the recruiting journey, I just knew."
Mitchell joins a pretty good group of fellow Lady Lightning AAU players who have committed to UAB and head coach Randy Norton, a former Illinois State assistant.
Former Montini teammate Lea Kerstein is in her redshirt freshman season at UAB. Geneva guard Margaret Whitley and St. Charles East post Sara Rosenfeldt, both seniors, have committed to UAB.
But this was Mitchell's independent choice.
"Honestly it just kind of happened that way," Mitchell said. "It's a huge advantage that we'll be going to the same school, we have do much chemistry with each other, but it wasn't a factor for me. It just ended up that way."
Mitchell this past season averaged 9.6 points, 3.5 assists and hit 54 3-pointers for 34-3 Montini. Slowed by an ankle injury at times, she hit the game-winning free throws to beat Geneva in December, and her shooting was huge in both Montini sectional wins.
"She's just a tough, tough kid," Nichols said. "We wouldn't have been in the state tournament if it wasn't for her. In the Kenwood, Benet and Bolingbrook she single-handedly carried us at times."
Mitchell comes from an athletic family, the third sister who has played sports. She recalls being dragged to basketball, soccer and volleyball games when she was younger.
She, though, will be the first to play sports in college.
"I think it started there following them, that I knew I wanted to play in college," Mitchell said. "I had a feeling that I wanted to make a decision before the summer. It was a hard decision, it really was. I knew that [UAB] had what I wanted, so I thought what am I waiting for?