Madison’s Hall Valuable And Precocious
HARRISONBURG — Overall, Precious Hall approves of the name her father gave her.
“When I first saw her, that was the first thing that came to my mind,” Tron Hall said with a laugh. “So we named her Precious.”
It’s just there are certain times that Precious would prefer to be, well, less precious.
“Off the court, I like my name. Precious,” the 5-foot-8 James Madison freshman guard said. “On the court, I just don’t like it. I don’t know why. I never liked people calling me Precious when I was on the basketball court.”
Perhaps it’s not ferocious enough for the reigning Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball Rookie of the Week, but it’s certainly an apt adjective for Hall, who has emerged as the Dukes’ top freshman this season.
Hall is coming off a breakout game last week against American in which she scored a career-high 16 points, going 6-for-14 from the floor and 3-of-8 from 3-point range to help Madison (4-6) stop a three-game losing streak with a 65-49 win over the Eagles. She showcased a clutch 3-point shot and a knack for getting to the hoop.
The outburst came at a good time for the Dukes, who have struggled to find consistent offense except for senior point guard Tarik Hislop (17.3 points per game) and junior guard Kirby Burkholder (13.9 ppg).
If Hall can keep it up, she could help alleviate JMU’s scoring issues. The Dukes are shooting just 35.5 percent from the floor, 10th in the 11-team CAA. They are averaging 63.8 points per game, which ranks fifth in the league.
“It made our offense flow a lot more smoother because we had that third person,” said Hislop, third in the CAA in scoring. “We have another threat — somebody else the defense has to pay attention to. It opened up a lot of scoring opportunities for guards and even our post. We got a lot more post production against American, and I think that was because they had to close out on shooters. There were three guards on the perimeter that were capable of scoring.”
Hall, who started for the first time this season against American, is averaging 4.2 points in 13.8 minutes, but JMU coach Kenny Brooks said her playing time will increase. She has separated herself from JMU’s 2012 class of freshmen, which includes forward Destiny Jones and point guard Angela Mickens. Brooks said Jones, a tremendous athlete, has struggled with the mental side of the college basketball, and Mickens, an R.E. Lee High School graduate, hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Hall also has emerged from a clump at guard that included senior Jasmine Gill and redshirt freshman Jazmon Gwathmey, who has been moved to forward to compensate for the loss of Nikki Newman to a broken foot.
“She’ll be as consistent as a freshman can be,” Brooks said of Hall. “Obviously with Nikki’s injury, that’s going to allow her to play more, but I think she’s earning the right to play.”
Brooks said Hall still needs to work on her defense, though. But it’s early, and Hall still is figuring out the college game — although it appears something has clicked in recent weeks.
“I started calming down after the first few games because I knew Nik was out. And [Coach] said, ‘Everyone just do what you do,’” said Hall, a violinist through middle school who was born in Albany, Ga., but moved to Tallahassee, Fla., when she started high school.
The 18-year-old Hall is a versatile player, capable of playing point guard or shooting guard. Playing for Essence Girls Basketball, a powerhouse AAU team based in Florida that Brooks described as “top five” in the country, Hall also saw time at small and power forward, despite dealing with a foot injury that kept her in a boot when she wasn’t playing.
“She could play through anything and she played through a lot of pain,” said Kim Davis Powell, the executive director and coach of Essence. “She was always like, ‘Coach, I can go.’ You could never tell on the court unless somebody stepped on her foot.”
There were nine seniors on Hall’s AAU team last year, and Powell said all nine received Division I scholarships. Hall selected JMU over Central Florida, Middle Tennessee State and UNC-Charlotte, among others.
Essence also has a relationship with JMU. Hall is the third player from the AAU program to end up in Harrisonburg. The other two were Jones (who played with Hall) and Kiara Francisco, who was a senior at JMU last season.
Brooks said the sudden increase in Florida players (Brooks has had only four in 11 seasons) wasn’t part of a recruiting philosophy shift; there were just players in Florida that JMU liked.
“It’s not really a Florida thing,” he said. “It’s more a kid thing.”
Like Hall. The only question is what do you call her on the court, if not Precious?
“They just call me P,” she said.
NOTE: JMU has added Lexi Carpenter, a freshman guard who transferred from Dayton. Carpenter will be eligible during the second semester next season. She began practicing with JMU this week.