With dreams to play basketball professionally, East Hamilton star Madison Hayes already has reached enormous heights.
She is more than a 13-hour flight away from home this week, representing the United States in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Hayes, who is ranked the top girls' prospect in Tennessee and No. 24 in the country for the class of 2020 by espnW, is ready to win gold yet again.
"I am super excited for the experience to play for Team USA overseas, said Hayes, who was a part of the 2019 USA Basketball 3-on-3 U18 national championship team in April. "I feel absolutely blessed to put on the USA jersey and represent my country."
Twenty countries will compete in the World Cup, which begins early Tuesday morning, Chattanooga time, and concludes Friday.
Hayes accomplished the rare feat of scoring 800 points with the Lady Hurricanes this past season, and the 5-foot-11 guard's all-around dynamic play won her the TSSAA Class AAA Miss Basketball award.
Becoming rather familiar with the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs this year, she hopes to follow in the footsteps of those she looks up to.
"My biggest role model is (former University of Tennessee and WNBA star) Candace Parker," said Hayes, who needs 771 points in her senior season to reach 3,000 for her high school career. "I look up to her because of how hard she works to better herself on and off the court.
"It's also an honor to play for Coach (Kara) Lawson for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. I am getting great advice for the game and outside of basketball."
Lawson, who also is a Lady Vols icon and a WNBA champion — and now a respected ESPN analyst set to be inducted June 15 in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame — will rely on Hayes along with Olivia Cochran, (Mississippi State signee) Rickea Jackson and Hailey Van Lith to separate Team USA from the world's best up-and-coming talents.
Cochran and Hayes played together on the national championship 3-on-3 team along with Hamilton Heights standout Treasure Hunt. Van Lith is the only player on the team with Team USA experience. She was on the 2018 Youth Olympic gold medalist team.
Jackson was the fifth overall ranked player in the class of 2019.
USA U18 3-on-3 girls' teams are 68-8 all-time with five gold medals since 2011.
"You have to be physically and mentally tough to win 3x3 championships," Hayes said. "The gold medal is what we are after. I am excited to play against other countries and for all the new experiences to come in Mongolia."
Team USA opens Pool B play at 1:20 EDT Tuesday morning with a matchup against New Zealand followed by a 4 a.m. showdown with Russia. Hungary and Poland also are in Pool B.
Other competing countries include China, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Mexico, Egypt (Pool A); Mongolia, France, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Philippines (Pool C); Indonesia, Romania, Switzerland, Japan and Belgium (Pool D).
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.