Hamilton Heights girls in national spotlight this week

This is an especially exciting week for the Hamilton Heights Christian Academy girls' basketball team.

Make that ESPecially exciting. Coach Keisha Hunt's Lady Hawks are ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN and can be seen on ESPN2 and ESPNU the next few days.

From the Big Peach and the Big Apple.

For the team based on Hickory Valley Road in Chattanooga.

Two of the Lady Hawks are playing in the McDonald's All-American game today at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. Tennessee signee Jazmine Massengill from Chattanooga and Georgia Tech recruit Elizabeth Balogun from Nigeria - but a Hamilton Heights student-athlete since eighth grade - have been in Atlanta getting ready for that since Sunday. They're actually on opposing teams.

They will join their Hamilton Heights teammates after tonight's game and fly Thursday to New York City, where the top-seeded Lady Hawks (24-2) will play at 11 a.m. Friday on ESPNU against Florida Class 8A state champion Winter Haven (32-1).

The two teams in the later semifinal of the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals also are impressive state champions - Westlake (30-1) in Georgia AAAAAAA and Central Valley (27-0) in 4A in Washington state, the latter with a 44-point average margin of victory this season - but like Winter Haven they are making their first appearances in the GEICO (formerly Dick's Sporting Goods) nationals.

Friday's winners will meet Saturday morning for the national championship on ESPN2. There is an eight-team boys' tournament as well, and all the games will be played at Christ the King High School in Queens.

Hamilton Heights has the benefit and motivation of having finished second last year to Miami Country Day.

"We're the Miami Country Day this year," Coach Hunt said. "They had been there before, and they had two McDonald's All-Americans.

"We won our semifinal in overtime but got kind of blown out in the final. We shot like 26 percent and Miami Country Day shot like 68 percent. I think the magnitude of the event - all the activities and the attention - got to us that second day. We got overwhelmed."

Six of the 11 Lady Hawks made the trip to New York last year, including Balogun, Massengill and current sophomore starters Kamilla Cardosa and Treasure Hunt, the coach's daughter. ESPN ranks the 6-foot-7 Cardosa as the No. 1 center and the No. 3 prospect overall in the class of 2020, and Hunt as the No. 1 wing and No. 10 overall.

A third senior on the team, Marta Rodrigues, is being recruited by "some small (NCAA) D-1 and really good D-2 schools," Coach Hunt said. Junior Esmery Martinez averages 8.3 rebounds a game, second on the team to Cardosa's 9.2.

Balogun leads in scoring with 18.2 points per game, followed by Hunt and Cardosa with 14.2 and 13.3, and Massengill passes for 6.8 assists. Another sophomore who plays quite a bit is Ruth Balogun, Elizabeth's sister.

Only a freshman last year, Treasure Hunt said the 2017 experience in New York "is going to make a big difference" this week. The other teams are outstanding, the Lady Hawks know, but they don't think outside factors will get in their way.

"If we get beat it will be because we didn't do what we're supposed to do on the court," Coach Hunt said.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.