Hamilton Heights Christian Academy boys basketball coach Zach Ferrell is one lucky dude.
He walked right into his first head coaching position and looked up – literally, way up – at one of the better big men in the state high school ranks, not to mention a bundle of talent surrounding 6-foot-11-inch sophomore Abdulhakim Ado.
As an inside intimidator, Ado scored 20 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked seven shots while leading the Hawks to a resounding 71-49 victory over East Hamilton at Tennessee Temple’s McGilvray Gym on Tuesday in the season opener for both schools.
In a runaway girls game, the Lady Hawks ripped the Lady Hurricanes, 66-12, and limited turnover-plagued East Hamilton to one point in the second half.
“I don’t think any high school coach could envision getting his first head coaching job with the amount of talent on this team,” said Ferrell, who played prep basketball at Christ Presbyterian in Nashville before walking on at UT-Chattanooga. “I’m very blessed. These guys have God-given talent and it’s very exciting for me to be able to help them hone their skills and take their games to another level.”
Ado was playing in another orbit on Tuesday.
The native of Nigeria, who already is receiving recruiting attention from Tennessee, South Florida, Georgia, Tennessee Tech, UTC, Furman and Elon, according to the Hamilton Heights website, scored the Hawks’ first six points on a jump hook, dunk and putback.
East Hamilton’s two tallest players – junior Tracy Thompson and sophomore Kenny Bunton – both stand 6-5. Bunton, however, suffered a left ankle injury with 5:39 left in the second quarter and watched the rest of the game from the bench.
The Hawks led 15-11 after one period and stretched the margin to 36-18 at halftime.
The pull-away started with the Hurricanes down 12-8 after freshman Mac Brower’s 3-pointer. Hamilton Heights went on a 13-0 run before Tank Sparks drilled a 3 from the left corner to end the Hurricanes’ drought with 3:06 left in the opening half.
Hamilton Heights, which will play at prep power Oak Hill (Va.) on Feb. 21, were cruising by halftime and its defense limited the Hurricanes to seven second-quarter points. Thompson was getting very few touches and even fewer open looks.
“I told our guys at halftime that Tracy, Mac (Brower) and Kenny, if he was healthy enough to play, that they had to get the shots,” East Hamilton coach Michael Stone said. “We know what Tracy can do, but he was getting lost on offense and our guards had to get him the ball in scoring position.
“He proved why we wanted him to get the ball.”
The Hawks outscored the Hurricanes 23-15 in the third quarter and the only reason the lead wasn’t larger is that East Hamilton discovered its long-range shooting eye.
Brower, a freshman, connected on a 3-pointer to start the Hurricanes’ scoring in the period. Then Thompson starting sending guided missiles toward the net, ripping off four straight dead-eye strikes, but the Hurricanes were still losing ground, trailing by 57-30 with 21.9 seconds left in the quarter.
All 15 Hurricanes points in the period came on 3-point shots.
“I think I got two shots in the first quarter,” Thompson said. “Coach told everybody to get us the ball on the perimeter. That 6-11 guy’s not so quick out there and we’re like 6-5 and 6-6 guards. Their taller guys didn’t guard it and I got the shots.
“I’m the leader and everybody looks up to me. Once Kenny went down we had to have somebody pick us up. That’s the role I played tonight. After my second 3, I was feeling it. I knew I had to come through for my team.”
For the game, East Hamilton made nine 3-pointers and, in addition to Thompson’s four, Brower and Sparks each had two and Finley Chacko added one.
Bunton had five points when he went down hard near midcourt and writhed in pain while being attended by the Hurricanes’ trainer.
Thompson paced the Hurricanes with 16 points and Brower had 15 in his debut with the Hurricanes, six coming in the final 4:27 of the game.
Ezekiel Balogun, who is also from Nigeria, had 16 points for the Hawks and 6-3 Serbian point guard Aleksa Jogovic, who signed a scholarship to Tennessee Tech on Wednesday, added 15 points.
But the night belonged to Ado, who is quickly putting his name out front in a long line of international student-athletes who have played at Hamilton Heights, with his dunks, blocks and strong rebounds.
“That’s my game,” he said. “I have to work on my free throws.”
As for the possible success of this year’s team, Ado boldly made a prediction: “We can be so good that we can beat Oak Hill.”
That’s a tall order.
Oak Hill, located in Mouth of Wilson, Va., has won eight national championships, including five since 2001, and finished runner-up six times.
Despite the blowout, Stone believes his Hurricanes will reap benefits from having played the star-studded Hawks.
“We expected them to be one of our most difficult challenges this year,” he said. “We scheduled them for that reason. That’s how you get ready to plays teams like Ooltewah in our district (5-AAA. Ooltewah is fast and athletic, but they won’t be any faster or athletic as Hamilton Heights, certainly not as big.”
The Lady Hawks didn’t give the Lady Hurricanes a chance to challenge them.
Spreading the scoring among eight players, Hamilton Heights raced out to a 16-0 and 21-1 leads before ending the first quarter with a 23-3 advantage.
A 7-2 run to start the second period pushed the margin to 30-5 and for all practical purposes the game was over. And it only got worse.
“That’s the worst loss in team history,” East Hamilton coach Derek Morris said. “We have no starters from last year at the moment and a lot of the girls tonight got their first varsity minutes against one of the best teams in Tennessee. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The Lady Hawks outscored the Lady Hurricanes 22-0 in the third quarter as the East Hamilton turnovers kept piling up. Hamilton Heights forced 10 miscues in the first quarter and finished with 27 in the game, which was played with a running clock in the fourth quarter.
East Hamilton’s only second-half point came on sophomore Destyne Black’s free throw with 44.9 seconds left in the game.
Fifteen of Hamilton Heights’ final 17 points came on 3-point goals – the only interruption being Kamile Kasciunaite’s putback basket with 6:44 left. Kasciunaite (Lithuania), Ema Plentauskaite Lithuania), Elizabeth Balogun (Nigeria) and Amber Hunt (Chattanooga) made 3s.
Hunt, daughter of coach Keisha Hunt, led the Lady Hawks with 15 points and Kasciunaite tossed in 13.
“We didn’t execute very well in the first half,” Keisha Hunt said. “In the second half we ran our plays and got open shots. We’ve really worked on our defense and how to play it right. We’re working toward February when we play in the Division I National Association of Christian Athletes tournament. We’ve won five lower division national titles, so we’re going after our first in Division I.”
The Lady Hawks' Gerda Paulauskaite, who finished with four points, signed a basketball grant on Wednesday with Gardner Webb.
Tori Stovall scored five points to lead East Hamilton.
East Hamilton 3 8 0 1 – 12
Hamilton Heights 23 7 22 14 – 66
East Hamilton (12) – Petitt, Woods 3, Tori Stovall 5, Denton, Wood 3, Black 1, Giles, Zeh.
Hamilton Heights (66) – Paulauskaite 4, Balogun 8, Vukosavjevic 6, Amber Hunt 15, Zalkauskaite, Monyei 4, Kamile Kasciunaite 13, Izundu, Plentauskaite 8, Keivisaite 8.
3-Point Goals: East Hamilton 2 (Woods, Stovall); Hamilton Heights 9 (Kasciunaite 3, Hunt 2, Balogun 2, Plentauskaite 2).
East Hamilton 11 7 15 16 – 49
Hamilton Heights 15 21 23 20 – 71
East Hamilton (49) – Tracy Thompson 16, Jackson, Sparks 6, Bunton 5, Chacko 7, Wright, Wingard, Mac Brower 15, Beach.
Hamilton Heights (71) – Roknic 4, Pitts, Duran 2, Nauseda 7, Barr, Huyler 2, Vaitkus 5, Aleksa Jogovic 15, Ezekiel Balogun 16, Adheke, Olaturji, Abdulhakim Ado 20.
3-Point Goals: East Hamilton 9 (Thompson 4, Sparks 2, Brower 2, Chacko 1); Hamilton Heights 4 (Nauseda, Vaitkus, Jugovic, Balogun).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)