This trio of Tennessee hoopers is bringing its winning ways to Kentucky

Zack Geogheganover 1 year


Aritcle written by:Zack GeogheganZack Geoghegan


<small>(Photo via Harlan Keith Breaux)<small>
[caption id="attachment_299451" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Rhyne Howard, Jazmine Massengill, and Treasure Howard (Photo via Harlan Breaux)[/caption] Jazmine Massengill's decision to transfer away from Tennessee in order to suit up for the Kentucky Wildcats came as a shock to her one-time high school teammate. Massengill had just finished up her sophomore season for the Lady Volunteers, the program that current Kentucky commit Treasure Hunt described as Massengill's "dream school." Hunt and Massengill are two years apart but played basketball together at Hamilton Heights Christian Girls Academy back when the latter was still in high school. As a duo, they helped build a powerhouse in women's high school basketball. The 2017-18 Hamilton Heights roster featured both Hunt and Massengill along with future University of Louisville commitment, Elizabeth Balogun, who was considered a top-10 recruit before making the leap to college. That team finished with a 25-3 record while playing a national schedule. They were ranked as the top team in the state and ninth in the country. Hamilton Heights made it all the way to the championship of the GEICO High School Nationals Tournament, unfortunately falling by a final score of 66-61 to Central Valley (WA). They made it to the finals the season before, as well. Leading these impressive groups of young ladies has been Keisha Hunt, a 15-year coaching veteran at Hamilton Heights and mother to one of her most impressive talents, Treasure. Keisha took control of the reigns of the women's program roughly 10 seasons ago and has produced a bevy of elite basketball prospects during her tenure, but not many were more impressive than Hunt and Massengill. Following the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, Massengill graduated and moved not far from home to attend the University of Tennessee. She left Hamilton Heights as a highly-rated prospect and was a McDonald's All-American in 2018. By the end of her second season in Knoxville, she was a regular starter and a threat on both ends of the floor. At a clean 6-feet tall, Massengill specializes as a game-managing guard. She ranked 12th nationally a season ago with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.67. But don't underestimate her ability to attack the boards, defend with intensity, and get to the rim. Massengill's decision to come to Kentucky wasn't a surprise when it actually happened, but leaving behind a program where she had just started 30 of Tennessee's 31 overall games was. The potential to link up once again with Hunt was tempting. Add in the connections between Hunt and Massengill with the current SEC Player of the Year in Rhyne Howard, and there was no other school that even had a shot at securing the services of Massengill. "Our friendship goes way back to grade school," Massengill said about her relationship with Howard and Treasure, according to The Chattanooga Times Free Press. "We are all really like sisters. It's more than a friendship. They are family." Matthew Mitchell will be Massengill's third coach in three seasons. Neither Treasure or Keisha even had to recruit Massengill to make the move to UK - although Keisha mentioned she did say one thing to her. Treasure said she elected not to because Massengill never tried to convince her to go to UT. Massengill's transfer felt inevitable after Howard simply posted the question "Reunion?" over top one of Massengill's Instagram posts. "It was shocking to me that Jazmine would leave Tennessee because that was Jazmine's dream school," Keisha Hunt told KSR. "Shes a Tennessee girl, always wanted to go there, but once I knew she was transferring it wasn’t a surprise [that she chose UK]. I figured that was going to happen." Howard played her high school basketball at Bradley-Central, located just 30 minutes outside of Chattanooga - where Hamilton Heights is based - in a smaller town called Cleveland, TN. Cleveland is roughly one-quarter of the population of Chattanooga, however, it produced one of the most underrated recruits of recent memory in Howard. Before Howard came to Lexington, she was severely undervalued. She was snubbed from the McDonald's All-American game and slid all the way down to No. 32 in ESPN's recruiting rankings. No one pegged her as a potential SEC Freshman of the Year - an award she would ultimately run away with - ahead of her first collegiate season, and she was tabbed to finish second in the 2019-20 preseason SEC Player of the Year rankings before she eventually went on to claim that hardware, too. Heading into her junior season, tucked away behind her calculated silence, Howard is finally receiving the recognition she has earned. She'll enter next season as a front-runner for National Player of the Year. Playing a local schedule, as opposed to the national schedule that Hamilton Heights ran through, likely hurt Howard's popularity, according to Keisha - and Howard's tendency to come off as timid didn't quite help, either. "I think what hurt [Howard] too was being in this same area with Jazmine and then Elizabeth Balogun," Keisha Hunt explained. "And at Hamilton Heights, we played a national schedule and played in front of a lot of people, a lot of McDonald's committee. Rhyne didn’t play a national schedule in high school, so I think that they knew she was a good player, but they didn’t see her play in person a whole lot to realize exactly what she was capable of doing." Even though Keisha Hunt didn't get to coach Howard at Hamilton Heights, she still managed to have an important impact on her career. Hunt coached a younger version of Howard starting in the 7th grade running all the way through high school AAU ball. Even back in middle school, Howard and Treasure were playing travel ball together. Keisha explained that Treasure only had the opportunity to play in the age group above her because she needed a challenge to showcase the best of her abilities. "[Treasure] does better when she's challenged," Keisha Hunt said about her daughter. "She never did play as good or as hard when she played at her own age group team. It just came too easy for her, and she would develop bad habits. So that's why I moved her up to the older girls so she couldn't do that." In the two seasons before Howard and Massengill left for college, they teamed up with both Treasure and Keisha to form an outstanding AAU team. With Keisha running the show at the helm and three elite basketball prospects under her wing, they formed a synergy and bond together that the Big Blue Nation hopes will follow them all these years later. "They’re probably the two best players that I've ever coached," Keisha Hunt said of Howard and Massengill.
A photoshoot arranged last weekend by Harlan Breaux just so happened to pair up the trio once again, teasing what was essentially the fan base's first look at what's to come. There were no sprints or shooting drills, just three good friends enjoying each others company. Treasure said they didn't talk about anything too serious, other than how excited they all are to play together whenever college hoops do come back. [caption id="attachment_299452" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Treasure Hunt, Jazmine Massengill, and Rhyne Howard (Photo by Harlan Breaux)[/caption] Treasure says the photoshoot with Howard and Massengill came together randomly, unlike their current relationship. They've been surrounded by each other for over a decade now, but they have never had the chance to play together at this high of a level. "They push each other, they’re competitive with each other, they will not allow any of them to have a night off as far as effort or feeling tired," Keisha Hunt said about the Wildcat trio. "They complement each other very well. I’m not exaggerating when I say they are not jealous of each other. A lot of times, when you have a lot of high profile players on the same team it becomes challenging to manage that, but I never ever had an issue with them." It's not going to be like it was back when they were 16 and 17 years old, though. The competition in the SEC is always quality, and Kentucky will have a target on its back as one of the conference's top teams. They'll need that chemistry mentioned by Keisha. Massengill still has to apply for a waiver from the NCAA so she can play right away. For three players that are accustomed to having the ball in their hands more often than not, spreading the rock could pose some issues. But what separates these three is how they're wired; winning comes first, second and third. "[They] are all very smart people and have smart basketball IQs," Keisha Hunt later added. "They realize that it takes a team to win a championship. You can't win a championship with even one phenomenal, the best player in the world. "Jazmine and Rhyne understand that. Wanting to win a championship is more important than being the leading scorer every night." For Treasure, the issue isn't going to be learning to play next to Howard or Massengill, but constantly playing up to her potential. Howard has already proven she's a future top pick in the WNBA Draft. Massengill has established herself as one of the SEC's top playmakers. Treasure's potential is undeniable as a 6-foot-2 scoring wing player, but she knows that she needs a challenge. And what better way to challenge yourself than by playing alongside two elite ball handlers (three if you count rising senior point guard Chasity Patterson) at one of the highest levels of competition in women's college basketball? "I'm looking forward to be able to win with [Howard and Massengill] at Kentucky," Treasure told KSR. "I think that with the team we have next year and with the incoming freshman and new recruits, that we could be a really big thing." It's still going to be some time before the three can link up together on Kentucky's campus. It'll be at least August before students are allowed back to the University. There are several players on the current Wildcat roster that Treasure hasn't even had the chance to meet yet. Massengill is still going to have to find a way to secure immediate eligibility. Whenever they can all play together on the same floor again, it's going to be a special moment - and not just for the athletes themselves. Keisha Hunt is excited to reignite the basketball bond she's formed with the mothers of both Howard and Massengill. "It's going to be fun. It's going to be fun for me too," Keisha Hunt said with a chuckle. "I'm happy to be a parent and be in the stands and just cheer for the whole team. I'm really excited to get to know the other parents. Rhyne’s mom, I’ve actually known her since high school. We didn’t go to the same high school together, but we went to some basketball camps together. I’ve known Jazmine's mom for a long time too. I'm almost just as excited for the fun that we’re gonna have!" The shock effect has finally worn off, and Hunt, Howard and Massengill are inching closer and closer to reliving the glory days of AAU ball. Or maybe their glory days are still ahead of them.

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