Edinburg Vela senior guard Andrea Molina (center) signs her national letter of intent to play college basketball at Schreiner University between her coaches and family during a ceremony Wednesday at the Edinburg Sports and Wellness Center. (Andrew McCulloch | The Monitor)

EDINBURG — Edinburg Vela’s Andrea Molina has been virtually inseparable from the court since the moment she first started dribbling.

Molina worked ball-handling drills in the driveway with her dad as a 5-year-old until her arms got too tired to keep dribbling and occasionally snuck away from class as an up-and-coming player to practice her free-throw shooting.

Vela’s star shooter knew every custodian at her high school and the Edinburg Sports and Wellness Center, where her youth career began, on a first-name basis and they knew to leave the gym lights on and doors unlocked so she could fire away with a few more late-night reps.

Molina’s dedication and extra hours of work paid dividends Wednesday, when the SaberCats senior signed to play basketball at Schreiner University, culminating a long journey to the collegiate level and beginning the next chapter of her hoops saga.

“She would sometimes text me before practice, ‘Coach, can I get there at 6 a.m.?’ and I would say not even custodians get there that early,” Edinburg Vela girls basketball head coach Lottie Zarate said. “She was always in the gym. She’s always been a gym rat and it’s paid off. She has a love and passion for the game, and I know she’s going to do a wonderful job at Shreiner.”

“It feels amazing,” Molina said. “I’ve been dreaming of this day my whole entire life. Now that it’s actually here, I kind of can’t believe it. It’s so surreal.”

Molina’s first goal was ambitious but straightforward: earn a spot on Vela’s varsity squad as a freshman.

That’s precisely what the SaberCats’ guard did, beginning a four-year high school career as one of the top players and most prolific scorers in school history.

From her earliest days with the program, Molina made sure to be the first to arrive and the last to leave while always making extra time to talk basketball and squeeze in a shootaround session.

“Everybody thinks of it as just work, but it’s actually fun for me. If I go to the gym, it’s like going to the movies or going bowling,” she said. “When it comes to the gym, I’m at home. There’s no place I’d rather be.”

Molina boosted her production and efficiency on the court in each of her four seasons competing in a SaberCats uniform, leading the team to four consecutive Class 6A playoff appearances.

She became only the fourth player in school history to score 1,000 career points at Edinburg Vela and now graduates ranked third in all-time scoring for the program with 1,133 points.

As a senior, she guided the SaberCats back to the postseason during a condensed season while posting career-high marks with 14.9 points per game and a 36% shooting clip as one of the RGV’s most consistent offensive playmakers.

“It all came down to working hard as a kid because I would really push myself,” she said. “But great basketball players are great basketball players because they surround themselves with great basketball players. … It’s an honor and it means the world to have been around so many.”

Molina was hard at work again, running through her conditioning routine before heading out for another shootaround, when she got the call she had been waiting for from Schreiner offering her a scholarship.

It was a fitting way for the SaberCats’ standout to check one more goal off her list, ascending to the collegiate level and following in the footsteps of many of her former teammates and role models including Ariel Rodriguez, who committed to Schreiner in 2015 to become Vela’s first girls basketball signee.

“That day I woke up early and said, ‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going.’ … I walked by faith, not by sight,” Molina said. “Faith has played the greatest role in my basketball career and my life. I owe it all to God and I wouldn’t have wanted to end it any other way.”

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Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch