HAMILTON HEIGHTS HAWKS nike elite high school

Sports Illustrated

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By Chris Johnson November 21, 2017

It has been more than three decades since Virginia Tech last produced a first-round draft pick. In 1986, the Utah Jazz took a sweet-shooting guard at No. 15 who’d go on to play 16 seasons in the NBA, win Sixth Man of the Year in 1994 and sire the player who, more than any other, has helped weaponize the three-pointer across the league. Nickeil Alexander-Walker probably won’t hear his name called earlier than Dell Curry on draft night, and he can’t effortlessly stroke 28-footers like Dell's son Steph, but he could be one of the best backcourt prospects in a draft class light on them.

When Alexander-Walker issued a verbal commitment to Virginia Tech in May 2016, it didn’t register much beyond recruiting circles. It’s unlikely most college basketball fans knew that it even happened. Nor did they have a good reason to, particularly since the Hokies were coming off another season to forget, one that ended with the program’s ninth consecutive NCAA tournament miss. At the time, Scout.com pegged Alexander-Walker as the No. 74 prospect in the class of 2017, below 17 other shooting guards. Other high-major schools, such as Southern California and Maryland, pursued him, but bluebloods like Kentucky and Duke didn’t extend a scholarship offer.

Alexander-Walker is from Toronto, but he played at both St. Louis Christian Academy and Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a top-40 recruit and a cousin of Alexander-Walker’s, was his teammate at the latter.) Competing in the American high school ranks may have aided Alexander-Walker in gaining exposure to Division I schools, but his rise owes less to prep performances than events like the Nike Hoop Summit this year, the Adidas Nations last year, and the 2016 FIBA Americas U18, when he led all scorers at the tournament by averaging 17.4 points per game. By the time Alexander-Walker began his freshman year at Virginia Tech, he checked in as the No. 33 prospect in the class of 2017 Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), a composite that incorporates data from multiple services.

2018 NBA Draft Big Board: Top 60 Prospects
That ranking still undersells his potential. In an age where the ability to perform certain tasks on the floor increasingly takes precedent over rigid positional designations, Alexander-Walker can bring more value to the NBA than many of the players rated above him. He can initiate offense in the half court, manufacture quality looks off the bounce, set the table for teammates, threaten defenses with his shooting range and check a range of perimeter players. Any team would welcome that package of skills in its backcourt, even if Alexander-Walker lacks the superstar ceiling of the most esteemed guards last year’s draft class, which saw eight fly off the board in the first 13 picks.

Alexander-Walker has an enviable physical profile for a player who’ll sometimes operate as a point guard, but says he views himself as a combo guard. For his part, Virginia Tech head coach  Buzz Williams says of Alexander-Walker, “I think he thinks the game as a 1.” Alexander-Walker is 6’5’’ with a 6’9’’ wingspan, and he coupled a 4,000-5,000-calorie diet with a rigorous weight-room regimen to crack 200 pounds this summer. (The Hokies now list Alexander-Walker at 210.) Williams should feel comfortable sticking him on wings, and he’s agile enough to corral floor generals. Alexander-Walker isn’t the sort of defender coaches can feel comfortable calling on to hound go-to scorers every night, but he can be a positive contributor on that end of the floor because of his adaptability. If Alexander-Walker is paired in a backcourt with a shooting guard that can’t stay with the opponent’s SG, Alexander-Walker can mark him, enabling the shooting guard to shift to an easier assignment. When asked about his individual goals this season, Alexander-Walker began with, “Try to be on first-team all defense.”

If Alexander-Walker holds his own defensively, NBA coaches will be more eager to keep him on the floor and take advantage of his offensive gifts. He’s a shrewd playmaker and smooth ball-screen operator who excels attacking in transition and putting pressure on defenses as a scorer and facilitator. Alexander-Walker offsets his absence of top-end explosiveness with body feints and change-of-pace dribbles. He can get to where he wants on the floor most of the time despite being unable to blow by elite defenders. You won’t see one-handed tomahawks and acrobatic layups on the regular from Alexander-Walker. He can navigate shot-blockers and finish inside anyway or, short of that, dish to shooters and cutters while penetrating. “I think he’s very versatile,” Williams says. “I think as he continues to gain strength, as he continues to gain confidence, I think his game will expand. He’s very gifted offensively.” Adds St. Louis coach Travis Ford, whose team did a good job bothering Alexander-Walker in a win last Thursday, limiting him to only four points on 1-of-7 shooting over 26 minutes: “Some of these guys are drivers, some of them are shooters. But he’s a driver, shooter, pull-up—you name it. He can do it all.”

Here’s Alexander-Walker in a Nov. 12 victory over the The Citadel, receiving a pass by the three-point arc and pump-faking his defender across the Virginia-West Virginia border before slithering into the lane for a left-handed layup.

 It’ll take some time for Alexander-Walker to get acclimated to the longer, more physical defenders he’ll confront in the NBA. He may have some rough moments this season against college guys capable of hanging with him athletically. But it’s easy to identify one aspect of his game that should translate at the next level. Alexander-Walker can space the floor with his shooting ability: He knocked down 40 of the 97 (41.2%) three-point attempts in RealGM’s database prior to the start of his college career, and 11 of 24 (45.8%) through four regular-season games at Virginia Tech. Alexander-Walker would really help himself by maintaining a similar percentage over a larger sample with the Hokies; a reliable long-range stroke would help paper over some of the other weak points of his game. But his subpar free-throw shooting (56% on 50 pre-college attempts, according to RealGM) suggests the aforementioned beyond-the-arc hit rate may not be sustainable, though he has sank 16 of his 21 (76.2%) tries from the line with Virginia Tech. Alexander-Walker also will need to tighten the release on his jumper and prove he can consistently rise and fire off the dribble.

He won’t turn into a Dennis Smith-level athlete by next summer, but if Alexander-Walker continues to show he can manage a traditional point guard’s responsibilities while knocking down threes at a percentage similar to what he did before getting to Blacksburg and through the beginning of this season, he has a chance to ascend to the upper rungs of an underwhelming 2018 draft class guard crop. There’s only one college guard who ranks in the top 10 of the Front Office’s first Big Board (Collin Sexton, at No. 10), which includes 60 players overall, and only one PG (Sexton, at No. 10) is slated to be selected inside the top 12 of the first-round Mock Draft we released earlier this month. 

Alexander-Walker, who turned 19 in September, would probably benefit from staying for a second season at Virginia Tech. He could use 2017-18 to solidify his standing as a first-round prospect in the eyes of NBA talent evaluators and then, as a sophomore, raise his stock for 2019. Or perhaps Alexander-Walker will show so well this winter that it makes more sense for him to make the jump into a shallow backcourt pool after only one season. Alexander-Walker says he hopes to be drafted in the lottery, but he’s currently focused on winning with the Hokies. “For me, I feel like if I look too far ahead,” he says. “I’ll miss what’s happening now.”

Helped Lady Hawks Reach National Title Game Last Season

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 - by Larry Fleming

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Hamilton Heights' Jazmine Massengill

Jazmine Massengill, a 6-foot-1 senior guard that helped the Hamilton Heights girls reach the Dick’s Sports Goods national championship last season, made basketball history Wednesday afternoon.

Massengill became the first player from Chattanooga to sign with Tennessee’s Lady Vols.

“I know this is a dream come true for Jazmine,” Lady Hawks coach Keisha Hunt said. “For our program, we’ve had girls sign with Division I schools, but never one with a major Division I team. It’s a testament to how hard Jazmine has worked the last few years.

”It’s expected that Massengill will play point guard or shooting guard with the Lady Vols. And she’ll have at least one friend when she arrives in Knoxville next fall. Massengill and Anastasia Hayes, a Lady Vols freshman who played at Riverdale, have been friends for some time.

“It’s going to be nice they’ll be playing on the same time for a while,” Hunt said.

How did Massengill, whose brother C.J. played at Hamilton Heights and is now at Tennessee-Chattanooga?

She was watching the Hawks play last season and texting back-and-forth with Lady Vols assistant coach Shanona Reaves. The conversation quickly turned to why Massengill hadn’t committed to the Lady Vols.

“I thought that’s a legitimate question,” Massengill said prior to her signing party Wednesday in the Hamilton Heights gym. “I really didn’t know why I hadn’t committed because I pretty much knew where I wanted to go.”

So, the Lady Hawks standout texted back to Reaves: “You’re right, what am I waiting on and I told her I was committing to Tennessee.”

Then, Massengill called Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick.

“She thought I was playing with her,” Massengill said. “I told her I wasn’t playing with her, that I was committing to Tennessee.”

Now, Massengill has turned her commitment into a signing and she’s now a Lady Vol.

There have been four players from Cleveland play at UT – Jody Adams (1989-93), Brittany Jackson (2001-05), Zandra Montgomery (1977-79) and Joy Scruggs (1971-75). A fifth player, Diane Brady (1973-75), hailed from Calhoun, Tennessee.

Massengill, who had scholarship offers from national champion South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky and 30 other schools. She narrowed the list to five finalists – Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida State, Kentucky and Baylor. Massengill chose not to whittle the list to two or three schools, decided from the top five.

“I kept going up to Tennessee and it always felt like home,” Massengill said. “That felt like the best place for me. The pressure to choose and sign is off of me now. It was a relief to me because if I have a good game or a bad game, I’ve already signed with Tennessee and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

“I used to get texts or calls from 20 to 30 coaches all the time. Now, I get texts from Tennessee. It kind of got aggravating, but it was a good problem to have.”

With no recruiting anxiety left, Massengill can concentrate on making her final season at Hamilton Heights an enjoyable and, hopefully, one that could end with a national championship in New York.

“We have a lot of potential to be number one,” she said. “We have four starters returning and know what it takes to get there. We almost won it last year and we pretty much have our chemistry down this season. Our expectations for this team are high.

“The main thing we had to do to win the Dick’s tournament is to focus on our team goals, not individual goals, and play as a team.”

Massengill, who started 78 of 82 games the last three seasons, averaged 13.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman. As a sophomore, her averages were 11.8 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds.

While leading the Lady Hawks to a 28-2 record her junior season, she averaged 10 points, 7.1 assists and 4.8 assists.

Hamilton Heights defeated Christ The King 56-50 in the Dick’s National semifinals and lost to Miami Country Day 81-56 in the title game.

Hunt, in her 13th year leading the Lady Hawks’ program (she was an assistant for five years), has high hopes for the team this season.

“This is the best team we’ve ever had,” she said, “but we’re also playing the toughest schedule we’ve ever had as well. In fact, I’ve heard from people that we’re playing the toughest high school schedule in the country.

“We want to win every single game and go back to the Dick’s tournament and win there.”

Hunt coaches several of her Lady Hawks in travel ball and the team was ranked No. 1 squad this past summer.

Senior Elizabeth Balogun, who is from Nigeria, has committed to Georgia Tech, but has not signed a national letter of intent as of Wednesday.

Those two players deserve a lot of credit for improving Hamilton Heights’ national reputation.

“Jazmine and Elizabeth were like stepping stones that moved us from one level to the next,” Hunt said.

Note: Zach Ferrell, the school’s boys’ coach, said former Hawks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, part of Hamilton Heights’ three-player Canadian connection last season, are being projected as one-and-done players at Kentucky and Virginia Tech. Both are freshmen this coming season.

The other former Canadian player, Therren Shelton-Szmidt, is now a freshman at Middle Tennessee State.

(Contact Larry Fleming at [email protected] and on Twitter @larryfleming44)


Massengill, Balogun Expected To Lead Squad This Year

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - by special to The Chattanoogan.com

The Hamilton Heights Lady Hawks have high hopes entering the 2017-2018 basketball season and they appear equipped to meet those high expections.

The Lady Hawks return four starters from last year’s team that went 28-2 and was the runner-up in the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Championship in New York City. Most national ranking services have indicated that the Lady Hawks will be ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams.

Hamilton Heights will participate in 10 national events, including the prestigious Title IX Holiday Classic in Washington, D.C., the Raatz / O’Shea Classic in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Memphis vs The World in West Tennessee.

The girls will conclude their scheduled season at the National Association of Christian Athletes National Championship in Dayton, Tennessee, but hope to also make a strong postseason run.

The Lady Hawks return two seniors who are nationally ranked by ESPN 6-foot-1 Elizabeth Balogun (No. 25) and 6-1 Jazmine Massengill (26).

Balogun has verbally committed to Georgia Tech and Massengill has committed to Tennessee.

The girls’ program also returns sophomores, 6-7 Kamilla Cordova and talented 6-1 Treasure Hunt.

Cordova is ranked third in the nation by ESPN and the top-rated post player while Hunt is ranked No. 10 nationally and the country’s No. 1 wing.

The Lady Hawks also return sophomore Ruth Balogun, who has added tremendous skills and strength to her game. And 6-2 junior, Jessica Jitoboh, rounds out the returning players for the Hamilton Heights squad.

Joining the Lady Hawks this year is a 5-6 senior from Portugal, Marta Rodriguez, who is already garnering NCAA Division 1 attention.

Also on the roster is Chattanoogan 5-6 Alivia Smith.

Rounding out the Lady Hawks are a pair of juniors from the Dominican Republic -- Esmery Martinez and Maria Manzano. Both girls participated in the Nike Basketball Without Borders this summer, where the 6-2 Manzano was selected the tournament’s MVP.

Hamilton Heights is coached by Keisha Hunt and her assistants are Jame Stone and Raven Hunt. Cameron Russell is the Hawks Strength and Conditioning Coach.

(Contact Larry Fleming at [email protected] and on Twitter @larryfleming44)