Taelor Hill grew up in nearby Cleveland. And as someone who comes from an area where basketball rules in girls' sports, the sophomore seems complacent about the circumstances that led her to a less-heralded high school program in Chattanooga.
"My parents wanted me to get a good education and felt Notre Dame would help prepare me for college," Hill said of her new surroundings.
That could be true. But there's nothing complacent about the impact Hill has had in her short time with the Lady Irish. Notre Dame is 8-7, playing a particularly rugged schedule lately, but squarely in the mix in the District 7-AA race.
Hill is a 5-foot-7 point guard averaging 16.4 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals per game. Notre Dame coach Wes Moore, who first saw her play in Cleveland at Lee University's summer camp, is hesitant to call her a "gym rat," but he knows of no other way to describe her.
"You could tell right away she had a lot of basketball talent," Moore said. "She immediately made an impact for us on both ends of the floor. Even when she's on the sideline catching a break, she's cheering the team on.
"She has a great work ethic and a great attitude. She's in the gym all the time, working on her own. Some of that stuff has also rubbed off on the other kids. That's what's made us better as a whole."
A self-proclaimed "very active child," Hill was 5 when she began playing Upward basketball in Cleveland. She also competed in gymnastics, swimming, track and field and volleyball growing up.
Hill decided to focus on basketball when she was an eighth-grader at Cleveland Middle. Last season she played junior varsity and some varsity at Bradley Central, which earned its way to the Class AAA state tournament.
With the transfer, Hill has gone from being a part-time player to being the focal point of the Lady Irish's opposing defenses. One of their losses was 75-44 to Class AAA Blackman from Murfreesboro -- the No. 3-ranked team nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
"Clearly she was the best player on the floor," Moore said of Hill, who scored 26 points against the Lady Blaze. "Blackman switched four guards on her and nobody could stop her."
Moreover, Notre Dame's players have enbraced their new standout. Hill said she felt comfortable around her new teammates as soon as she joined them during summer conditioning drills.
"That's the thing on this team -- everybody's so close," Hill said. "We love each other like a family. Our chemistry off the court affects how we play. I've never had a team like that."
Moore agreed about the girls' welcoming aspect.
"They've been fantastic," Moore said. "They've really kind of followed her lead. They work hard in practice. When they guard her, they have to."
A side note to Hill coming to Notre Dame has been the chance to play for Moore, a former point guard instrumental in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament in 1997. Moore said it's been fun working every day with a kindred spirit, particularly one so coachable.
The District 7-AA season is in its early stages. The Lady Irish lost at defending champion Bledsoe County, and they've also hosted and beaten Grundy County. Chattanooga Christian, Sequatchie County and Signal Mountain await.
Hill thinks a district championship is attainable. And a little pickup in scoring may be all that's needed.
"Without a doubt I believe we can win the district," Hill said. "I think if we score the basketball we'll be fine. The defense is there. We just have to put the ball in the basket. We're working on that."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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