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East Hamilton's Madison Hayes (14) has the skills to play multiple positions on the basketball court. The sophomore has scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools.
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East Hamilton sophomore Madison Hayes, with ball, is one of the most highly recruited girls' basketball players from Hamilton County in several years. The Lady Hurricanes open their season Thursday.
 

One look at her Twitter handle — @girl4allsports — pretty much defines Madison Hayes in her youth.

"I just loved playing sports," the East Hamilton sophomore said. "I was a tomboy. I wanted to do what the boys did. I played a little bit of flag football. I played everything."

The girl for all sports one day will have to narrow her choice to one, which is expected to be the one she and her teammates are about to start playing Thursday as high school basketball season begins this week. The Lady Hurricanes host Smyrna at 6 p.m. ahead of the 7:30 boys' tipoff in TSSAA Hall of Champions games.

The first sport Hayes tried was softball, which she played from coach-pitch years until she was in middle school. But before she left that sport behind, as a 13-year-old in July 2015 she added the 14-under girls' Pitch, Hit & Run title to the 12-under one she had won the year before, making her the first girl to repeat as national champion in that event in its then-19-year history.

Volleyball is something she didn't start playing until middle school. But at close to 6-foot and with a profound leaping ability, she caught on quickly. Hayes was by far her team's leader in kills and helped East Hamilton win its first district championship in the program's nine-year history, along with winning a third region title and advancing to the state tournament for the first time since going in 2011 and 2012.

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BOYS’ TEAMS TO WATCH

1. LaFayette: The Ramblers bring four starters back, including standout Alex Kelehear, from last season’s breakout 23-5 team. Sharpshooter Jon Morgan and rugged DeAngelo Southern are other key returners.

2. Brainerd: Tyner won District 6-AA last season, but it was Brainerd that won Region 3 and ultimately advanced to the state tournament. The Panthers will need someone to emerge at point guard.

3. Calhoun: The Yellow Jackets played in a Georgia Class AA semifinal last season and finished 23-5. This bigger team will be led by 6-foot-5 forwards Davis Allen and Chase Goble, 6-3 Kaylan Aker and point guard Porter Law.

4. Baylor: The Red Raiders return everyone from 2016-17, which included a late-season 19-point win over archrival McCallie, the Division II-AA state runner-up. Patrick Urey, a 6-5 senior forward, has played the longest.

5. Dalton: The Catamounts play in tough Region 6-AAAAAA, but they’re fine if size means anything. Hunter Brummell and Jager Dickson, both 6-8, and 6-4 Aaron Fraire will be tough to match up with inside.

BOYS’ PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Jr. Clay, McCallie: The Tennessee Tech signee and MVP of last year’s Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament averaged 15 points, five assists and two steals per game for the DII-AA state runner-up.

2. Nasir Love-Porter, Dalton: The senior point guard, who averaged 18 points and six assists last season, brings a football toughness to the court and is good finishing at the basket or setting up teammates.

3. Caden Mills, Van Buren County: The 6-6 senior who recently signed with Tennessee Tech is a two-time Class A all-state player and with more than 2,000 points is already the Eagles’ career scoring leader.

4. Jessie Walker, Brainerd: The physical 6-3, near 200-pounder is a multiple Class AA all-state performer. He averaged 21.7 points and 11.2 rebounds last season and has surpassed 1,500 career points.

5. Cole Wilcox, Heritage: The 6-5 forward, best known for his prowess on the baseball field, is one of the area’s top inside players and comes off a season in which he averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds.

GIRLS’ TEAMS TO WATCH

1. Bradley Central: The Bearettes lost a key player in Lee freshman Halle Hughes, but with do-it-all Rhyne Howard and others back, they’re still the team to beat in District 5-AAA until proven otherwise.

2. Northwest Whitfield: The Lady Bruins return four starters and eight of their top nine from last year’s 22-6 team, including senior leading scorer Holly Heath. Finding a successor at point guard is the key.

3. East Hamilton: The Lady Hurricanes have a nice blend of youth and experience and a variety of skill sets at coach Hunter Gremore’s disposal. He believes his team’s gap with Bradley Central has been narrowed.

4. Calhoun: The Lady Jackets have a slew of talented freshmen, including 6-footers Lyndi Rae Davis and Maggie McBrayer, to go with returning starters Erin Davis and Anna George and new coach Kayla Ralston.

5. GPS: The Bruisers play in a tough division and make the adjustment to new coach Jay Watts. But they return four key seniors, including 3-point specialist Brooke McCurdy, and welcome in 6-2 freshman Jaylah Love.

GIRLS’ PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Rhyne Howard, Bradley Central: The recent Kentucky signee averaged 19.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 4.6 steals per game last year for a team that didn’t lose until its Class AAA state sectional.

2. Madison Hayes, East Hamilton: She’s about to be a three-year starter as a sophomore and averaged 15 points and nine rebounds per game last season. She already has multiple NCAA Division I scholarship offers.

3. Micah Black, Rhea County: The senior, who has signed with Lee, had a 47-point game last season with 10 3-point goals — both school records. She averaged 21 points per game and shot 45 percent from behind the arc.

4. Emily Wiley, Heritage: The junior forward will take on a much larger role after the Generals’ graduation losses, so expect her averages of 12 points and seven rebounds per game to shoot up drastically.

5. Macey Gregg, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe: The 5-9 junior guard already is getting college offers coming off a season in which she scored 15 points per game and also averaged four rebounds and three steals.

 

Then there's basketball.

"I just felt like I could become something in basketball," Hayes said. "The game has a better pacing to it. I like that, instead of just waiting around, like you do a lot of in those other sports."

Hayes has been a varsity starter for the Lady Hurricanes since she was an eighth-grader and isn't too far way from the 1,000-point mark already. She averaged 15 points and nine rebounds per game last season and has the potential to be a 2,000-point scorer with 1,000 rebounds in her high school career.

Coach Hunter Gremore came from the Memphis area to East Hamilton last year. He recalled the moment he first met his new star pupil.

"Just look at her," Gremore said. "Look how long and athletic she is. I knew with her body frame, she could be a special athlete. The first thing that stood out to me when we got together was how hard she played. I could see she had this intensity level. Her motor never stopped."

Hayes has the ability to make shots from 3-point distance, as well as take the ball to the basket and finish with either hand. She also can defend multiple positions. But Gremore said there's one area where she excels the most.

"As far as basketball, she is hands down the best offensive rebounder I have coached," said Gremore, who in his 21st year of coaching has coached boys and girls in various sports with several having signed NCAA Division I scholarships and some of the guys making it to the NFL. "That's all desire and anticipation, and knowing the angles. It's still amazing to me that she's only a sophomore in high school."

Hayes has gotten a lot of national exposure from playing AAU basketball for her 17-under FBC United team. Her first NCAA D-I offer was from Syracuse the summer before she started ninth grade, and now she has offers from practically every ACC and SEC school.

But foremost on her mind right now is challenging for the District 5-AAA title that Bradley Central has had a stranglehold on in recent years. Incidentally, when East Hamilton takes on the Bearettes, Hayes is usually matched up against her cousin, Rhyne Howard, who recently signed scholarship papers to play at Kentucky.

"It helps me become a better player," Hayes said. "She's going to be playing at a Division I college, so that helps me get my game better. She challenges me, and I challenge her at times. That makes us both better."

Playing a rugged early-season schedule and adjusting to a new coach, the Lady 'Canes started last season 3-10. Afterward they were 13-4 with three of the losses to Bradley. The other was a season-ender when White County made a last-second shot to oust them from the Region 3 tournament, which Bradley won.

Hayes' supporting cast includes classmates Dezah Lacey, a guard, and Eliziah Laboo, a post player who had as many as 16 rebounds in a game last year. Both were all-district selections along with Hayes.

Carli Zeh returns as a starter for a third season, and fellow senior Maleiah Moon directs the show and is a tough defender. Another senior, Hailey Abernathy, is coming back from a torn ACL and will provide some perimeter shooting off the bench.

And keep an eye on another reserve, eighth-grader McKenna Hayes, Madison's sister.

"I feel like as a team we have the best chemistry," the elder Hayes said. "As long as we know our roles, I think we can be a really good team. We will try. We'll fight to the buzzer. We're a team that doesn't really give up."

After she got to experience what the volleyball state tournament was like, her dream now is to get to the basketball state tournament. She would love to share those moments with her teammates.

She's a giver. Maybe to a fault, if that's possible.

"If anything she's too unselfish," Gremore said. "I want her shooting the ball. I just want the ball in her hands."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.

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