Destiny Littleton couldn’t breathe. Wearing an elevation mask that restricted her oxygen intake, the 5-foot-9 shooting guard sprinted up and down a steep hill behind The Bishop’s School on Prospect Street near the beach in La Jolla, California.
Up. Down. Up. Down. Littleton put one foot in front of the other and continued to accelerate, even though she would have given anything to rip off the mask. Cars whizzed by. The sea breeze was hardly consolation in the 85-degree heat.
“That mask right there?” Littleton said, shaking her head, pointing to the black and gray elevation mask with a white skull design. “That is probably my enemy.”
Bishop’s coach Marlon Wells — Littleton’s mentor — came up with the idea last April to prepare Littleton for the altitude at the USA Basketball U16 national team trials in Colorado Springs that summer.
The first few days, Littleton could hardly keep on the mask for 10 minutes before gasping for air. But she kept coming back, three to four times a week, around two in the afternoon. Her lungs worked harder. Her mental toughness increased. And once she learned to endure, she increased the altitude on her mask to challenge herself more.
“She took it to another level,” Wells said. “She just started going harder and pushing herself.”
Littleton, who helped U.S. team to a bronze medal at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Puebla, Mexico, now shoots thousands of jumpers wearing the mask, preparing to outlast the double and triple teams, and box-and-one defenses that hound her.
Defenses haven’t been able to keep up, and the junior is averaging 36.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.4 steals a night for Bishop’s (17-4). She’s the 13th-ranked prospect in the class of 2017 by HoopGurlz.
“I want to become one of the greats,” Littleton said. “I try to be the best. I think that’s what pushes me the most.”
Marlon Wells remembers the first time he spotted Littleton. The Bishop’s coach had heard about a seventh-grade girl who was schooling the boys at the local rec center. She could shoot, she could dribble, she could rebound.
She could also have a temper.
“Terrible,” Wells said, laughing. Littleton was fighting for position in the post when a boy fouled her. She pushed him back and received a technical foul. She’d slam the ball and argue with referees so often they came to call her “Miss Attitude.”
“She was just tough,” Wells said. “Anything would set her off.” (READ MORE).