Basketball: Freshmen turn Kinnick into Far East favorite
TOKYO – Three years before she was even high-school eligible, Nile C. Kinnick coach Mike Adair was watching then sixth-grader Venus Hill playing basketball at Yokosuka Naval Base’s Purdy Fitness Center.
Her ball handling, playmaking and shooting impressed him even then, he said.
“I said to myself, ‘She could start for my team right now;’ she was that good,” said Adair, in his fourth season as Red Devils’ head coach after being an assistant for the previous two. “She was that good then.”
Fast forward to this season, in which Hill was installed at point guard and fellow freshman Dallas Carter at center. Two key positions that were lacking, Adair said, a year ago when Kinnick went 15-18, third in DODEA-Japan and fourth in the Kanto Plain and Far East Division I tournament.
“We didn’t have a guard, somebody who could shoot, or an inside presence,” Adair said. “Getting to .500 was our only goal.”
Kinnick now owns Japan’s best win-loss record, at 17-3, with Hill averaging 11 points, four assists and 4.5 steals per game and Carter 13 points and nine rebounds.
Adair says he has all the confidence the first-year players can do the job.
“These two just make everybody around them better,” he said. Around them are three returning starters from last season, and “a lot of the pressure is off” of them after that trying 2015-16 season.
“They know they have a ball handler who can get it down low,” Adair said. “And you’ve already got three starters back with experience. We are so deep, our sixth, seventh, eighth players could start on most teams in the Pacific. I can’t imagine any other school not being happy with them.”
The two are also tethered together off the court, Adair said. “They’re best buddies, they grew up together and played all the time,” he said. “They’re nice to have around. They’re funny. They make me laugh, especially Venus.”
Hill was born at Yokosuka and has lived in Hawaii and Florida before returning to Japan four years ago. She carries a 3.8 grade-point average, and says she aspires to play ball after high school. She credits good team chemistry for the results to this point.
“We’re still working on that, but it’s getting better quickly,” Hill said. Dribbling and handling the ball, she says, are her strengths. “I need to work on seeing the court more and making better decisions, playmaking and passing.”
Of Kinnick’s three losses, one came to Zama, a 39-35 defeat in overtime. Hill says the toughest player she’s faced yet is Trojans senior Ti’Ara Carroll: “She’s just smooth and she’s also quick when dribbling the ball and she can also jump very high,” Hill said.
Carter hails from West Palm Beach, Fla., and lived in Naples, Italy, before moving to Yokosuka; her mother is an English as a Second Language teacher at Sullivans Elementary on Yokosuka, and Carter is also strong academically, 3.5 GPA.
Kinnick’s other two losses came against American School In Japan; in both, the Mustangs focused defensively on shutting down Carter. She feels ASIJ’s Grace Wallrapp is a strong opponent: “She’s good to go against. She also has an outside shot, so I have to watch for that,” she said.
Carter feels her own strong point is post moves and shooting layups. “I need to go up stronger and not soft,” she said.
Playing youngsters on teams contending for Far East titles isn’t new for Adair and Kinnick.
In 2013, the last year the Red Devils won Far East, they started sophomores Alyshia Allyson and De’Asia Brown in the backcourt; he was an assistant coach that season.
And in 1996, when Adair was student teaching at Kinnick while on active duty, he watched sophomores Nicole Jackson and Lindsay Baines boost the Red Devils to their second of back-to-back Far East titles; Jackson and Baines also started in the 1995 Far East as freshmen.
“In terms of smarts and court sense, I think Venus is right up there” with the likes of Allyson, Brown and Jackson in Kinnick’s guard pantheon, Adair said, adding that she has the potential to play small-college ball.
Carter, too, could play at a higher level if she grows a few more inches and works on her backcourt play, he said. “She’s got the tools; she just needs to get a little more height on her.”
Hill is due to transfer to Virginia after this school year, while Carter would remain as long as the mother stays at Sullivans. Whether Kinnick does climb the title mountain or not, Adair says he plans to enjoy the campaign with his two new youngsters.
“They’re just a joy to coach,” he said. “Both have very bright futures.”