CHARLOTTESVILLE — Maybe they can’t see her? Maybe she’s just too small or too elusive? Whatever it might be, opposing teams are having a difficult time containing this Eastern Hancock sharpshooter.
Although small in stature, Royals’ rookie guard Haley Best, who stands just 5-foot-2, does more than hold her own on the basketball court. In fact, according to MaxPreps, she’s the top freshman shooter in the entire state of Indiana and ranks No. 31 overall among all classes with 37 made threes this season.
And in her first year on varsity, Best has given Eastern Hancock and head coach Shari Doud a deadly weapon off the bench for a team already deep in numbers, scoring 8.3 points per game in a sixth man role.
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Only junior forward Emiley Carlton (9.7 ppg) has scored more points for the Royals (13-4) this season.
“Haley is very small and has good lateral quickness,” Doud said. “She’s worked hard enough in the offseason and has a very quick release. She also has very deep range and might be small, but she is extremely strong.
“She is definitely talented enough to be a starter. As a freshman, I love bringing her off the bench; she just brings an energy. Sometimes as a freshman, it’s better to take the game in mentally first.”
She had a season-high 17 points, twice, once against rival Knightstown and the other against Lapel. In the win over the Panthers, she nailed a career-high five 3-pointers. For the season, Best is shooting 39 percent from deep.
She has been consistent, too. In 16 of 17 games, the freshman dead-eye has hit at least one deep ball and has hit two or more 11 times.
“When I hit a three it builds confidence in me for the rest of the game and makes me want to shoot more,” Best said.
Overall, she is shooting 34 percent from the field against tougher, more physical varsity guards and hitting 77 percent of her attempts at the free throw line.
But what has allowed Best to settle in so quickly to the next level? According to Doud, her work ethic is second to none.
“What makes her a unique player is her work ethic,” she said. “She is one of the very few players that will get in the gym when there is no practice. Even when practice is over, she gets a ball and gets in another 30 or 40 shots. She has desire, passion and work ethic — all things that have made her a successful freshman.
“That’s what it takes, you can’t just show up and be that good.”
It’s a trait that’s been built from a particular disease she deals with on a daily basis. Best is a Type 1 diabetic, which forces her to carry around an insulin pump on her hip at all times — besides on the basketball floor. She’s never let it stand in her way. It’s just another obstacle, like her physical stature, the freshman has had to overcome to be successful.
“She has to check her blood sugar multiple times a day, sometimes even leave practice to do so,” Doud said, who noted Best’s contagious and uplifting personality. “She battles that and is still the successful kid she is. My hat and admiration goes off to her.”
However, according to Best, shooting runs in the family. Her sister, Hannah, was a “shooter” in high school too. However, there is no player Best idolizes more than Warriors’ MVP guard Stephen Curry, who has one of the quickest releases on his jump shot in NBA history.
“Steph Curry has a great shot and dribbling ability, and I watch every game he plays,” Best said. “My sister was a shooter too so I try to live up to that.”
During the summer, Best stays sharp by playing on one of the Sky Digg Elite AAU teams, named after WNBA star Skylar Diggins. She first started playing AAU ball in the third grade at Greenfield-Central.
This season, however, Best said she has learned valuable lessons from her entire team, who has accepted the newcomer with open arms. With a deep and skilled team, no single player has had to carry more weight than they can bare, allowing Best to come into her own in a time where adjusting can be tough.
But what the future holds for this young star? No one knows just yet. Doud can only make an educated guess.
“She’s going to make her mark (in the record books). She’s off to a great start so far,” Doud said.
Name: Haley Best
Scoring: 8.3 points per game
Shooting: 37 made 3-point field goals (No. 1 in state among freshman, No. 31 overall among all classes)
Percentages: 39 percent from deep, 77 percent from free throw line
Role: Sixth man
Inspiration: Sister, Hannah Best
Favorite Player: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors