A trio of former Chattanooga AAU girls' basketball standouts will have the chance to recreate their Tennessee Xtreme chemistry at the University of Kentucky.
Rhyne Howard, the former Bradley Central Bearette who is already a star for the Wildcats with two college seasons behind her, will be joined next school year in Lexington by two familiar faces: Jazmine Massengill, whose transfer from Tennessee was announced April 15, and Massengill's former Hamilton Heights Christian Academy teammate Treasure Hunt, who signed with Kentucky in November.
Massengill, a 6-foot guard, cleared the NCAA transfer portal the same day the Lady Volunteers announced the addition of 6-foot-1 forward/center Keyen Green, a graduate transfer from Liberty. After playing for two of late legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt's former guards her first two college seasons — Holly Warlick as a freshman and Kellie Harper as a sophomore — Massengill will be coached by Matthew Mitchell, whose collegiate coaching career started as a graduate assistant on Summitt's staff in the 1999-2000 season.
And she'll be back in the same team colors as Howard and Hunt.
"Our friendship goes way back to grade school," said Massengill, who led the Lady Vols in assists this past season with 128, including a high of 12 against Missouri. "We are all really like sisters. It's more than a friendship. They are family.
"We have played together since AAU, where we really grew a lot together as players. This is a dream come true to be back together, and it's crazy."
Old is new again
Having first played basketball together in third grade, Howard and Massengill know each other's strengths and style of play well.
Massengill averaged 23 minutes, 4.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists in her two seasons at Tennessee, showing notable progress across the stat sheet as a more versatile player in 2019-20. Her ability to run the floor and not give in to defensive pressure should boost Kentucky's offense, too.
The Wildcats are already potent on that end of the court thanks to the presence of the 6-foot-2 Howard, an all-around threat who as a sophomore had per-game averages of 23.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks. Her accolades with the Wildcats include being named the freshman women's basketball player of the year for the Southeastern Conference and the nation in 2019 and the SEC women's basketball player of the year this past season, when she was a first-team member of The Associated Press All-America lineup.
Like Howard and Massengill before her, Hunt had a decorated high school career.
This past season, the athletic 6-foot-2 guard was named Tennessee girls' basketball player of the year by MaxPreps after averaging 24.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for Hamilton Heights. She and Massengill are two of the Lady Hawks' four McDonald All Americans in the past three years.
"To be back together and make it this far is such a humbling experience," said Massengill, whose transfer was announced by Kentucky the same day as the addition of Robyn Benton, a standout sophomore for Auburn this past season.
"Chattanooga players are sometimes looked over and don't have the resources as other players. We are so proud to represent our city on such a big platform. We love our city. It's going through a tough time right now, but we want to be lights in the dark and bring a national championship back home one day soon."
Massengill will have to sit out the 2020-21 season unless a new transfer rule is made due to the NCAA season being cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her presence should make an impact right away, though, whether or not she takes the court.
"At first I thought college would be a scary transition for me," said Hunt, who helped Hamilton Heights go 25-1 and achieve a No. 2 national ranking in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 during her senior year. "However, knowing that two of my favorite players to play with are going to be with me makes everything feel more relaxed and really excited."
Big Blue goals
Kentucky was ranked as high as 11th and wound up 16th in the final AP Top 25 poll this past season, which the Wildcats closed by reaching the SEC tournament semifinals before getting a chance to see what they could do in the NCAA field.
Howard's personal highlights included three games with at least 30 points, including a high of 43 against Alabama, but she sees even bigger things ahead.
"Treasure and Jazmine both bring a threat on offense in addition to what we already have, and I am excited to get back on the court with them," Howard said. "I know they will do whatever it takes to win, and they will fit right in our program. It's going to be exciting to see what we can do over a whole year rather than just during the summer."
Being able to watch the future trio of Wildcats shape one of the top AAU teams in the country and now reunite is special for their former Tennessee Xtreme coach, Keisha Hunt — Treasure's mother and the Hamilton Heights Lady Hawks' coach as well.
"They are all awesome players, but what is most important is they all know how to play together," the coach said. "There is nothing like chemistry. Chemistry can beat anybody. Rhyne's mom and I started coaching them when they were young, and it's amazing to see how far they have come.
"I think a national championship in the future is possible."
With the pandemic closing down gyms, Massengill has been putting up shots and training on outdoor courts. She's not waiting to get to work on the next phase of her basketball career — one that will bring the past into play alongside Howard and Hunt.
"We aren't ever going to settle," Massengill said. "We have to expect greatness and push ourselves to the highest level we can. If we build together and all grow as a team, we will be hard to stop."