Usually it just took one look or a point of her finger for Alexus Hill to establish a message. If a Northern Nash player was standing on the wrong side of the court, or if she made a sloppy pass, or took a bad shot, or just needed to be calmed down, Hill often was on the scene before the coaches were.
Northern Nash took its direction from Hill, who had about as much control over a team as a high school senior can have.
In the background for most of her basketball career, “Baby Raptor” owned 2013-14, winning the Telegram’s All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
It was not so long ago that Hill was playing for the Rocky Mount Lady Raptors, an area AAU team on which she played with girls two years older, hence the nickname. The Raptors’ practices were grueling for Hill, who sometimes grew so frustrated that she would storm out of the gym in tears.
“But she always came right back in.” Former Raptors coach Corey Mercer said. “We’d yell at her, then she’d cry, then her mom would yell at her for leaving and she’d cry again. But she always came back in and pushed herself to the limit.”
There were no tears as a high school player. Hill was a gritty, thick-skinned guard who proudly wears scars obtained on the court and once stopped a game after taking an elbow to the mouth, spit blood into a trash can behind the Knights’ bench, then shooed off the coaches and re-entered the game.
As the Knights’ only senior this season, Hill averaged 18 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. Northern Nash made it to the regional semifinals, where foul trouble unceremoniously kept Hill on the bench for most of the game.
The finish wasn’t her greatest concern, though. Her senior season was dedicated to making sure Knights coach Grover Battle will have a team ready to contend after she leaves. Like a booster that detaches from a space shuttle, Hill wouldn’t be satisfied until a young Knights core reached a level she deemed high enough.
When the Knights dominated a very good Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons team in the third round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs, Hill knew her work was done.
“After that game, I watched the film and I was like, ‘Coach Battle has a good team next year,’” Hill said. “That game I knew they got what I was trying to tell them the whole season.”
Battle saw it, too.
“I must give her credit,” Battle said. “In the other years, she led by example, but she pushed those young ladies this year. We started all over the place this year, but she would not allow those young ladies to quit. She made everybody play above their heads.”
Hill, a three-sport star, signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Gardner-Webb next season. Battle said he expects Hill to start right away and become a captain at some point of her career.
Many around Hill think she has a fruitful college career upcoming, but she isn’t done with Northern Nash just yet.
“I miss being with my girls every day. Being with them every day was like being at a family reunion every day,” Hill said. “It was fun. We had fun, but knew when it was time to have fun and time to be serious and play. I’m not in any rush to leave high school.”
Next season, Hill won’t be around for any lessons. She won’t be there to set the tone at practice or reassure a struggling teammate. Northern Nash will have to find someone else to guard the opposing team’s best player or take a clutch shot.
But with the way Hill has left every other program, there is a feeling around Northern Nash that everything will be just fine.
In Hill, the Knights were taught by an exemplary high school basketball player.
“She’s the type of kid any coach wants on their team,” Mercer said. “Any team she has ever been on was better for having her there. The Raptors, Northern Nash. And in all 3 sports, too. Everywhere she (has) ever been is in a better spot now.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com