Steve Hatton looks on as his daughter, Lilly, practices free throws early Thursday morning at North Harrison High School. The gymnasium’s bright lights illuminate the hardwood floor an hour before sunrise.
At 6:34 a.m., Lilly transitions to two-ball dribble drills spanning the length of the court. “Pop, pop, pop,” Steve said, mimicking the bouncing noise as she maneuvered through a series of nine-inch safety cones. Minutes later, Lilly is honing other skills – up-and-under moves, one-dribble pull-ups, catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, weak-side lobs, elbow jumpers – rarely with a miss in between.
“Are you keeping count?” Lilly asked her father after another stint at the free-throw line. Despite already hoisting hundreds of shots, the sophomore continues to rack up consecutive makes. “That a kid,” Steve said.
This is any other morning for the father-daughter Hatton duo, part of a family rich in athletic tradition. Steve turned in a storied playing career in his high school days at Clarksville. One of several basketball players in the family, he remains the Generals’ all-time leading scorer and went on to play collegiately at Transylvania. Lilly’s mother, Emily, was a state finalist in the high jump at Clarksville.
Steve and Emily – both former Clarksville coaches – moved to Ramsey after Steve, now the principal at North Harrison, was hired during Lilly’s fourth-grade year. Given the background, the early morning hoops routine has been a staple for Lilly the past four years. She became familiar with the surroundings, though, at a much earlier age.
“I was probably born holding a basketball,” Lilly said. “My dad has coached all levels, eighth-grade girls to varsity boys, so even when I was little and not quite ready to start playing on a team, I was always in the gym while he was at practice or with my mom climbing over hurdles while she was at track practice. So I’ve always been involved with sports, especially basketball.”
The extra work has paid off handsomely. Lilly is averaging 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game this season for the top-ranked Cats, who are 26-2 ahead of their second consecutive semi-state appearance on Saturday. As a freshman, she tallied more than 12 points and seven rebounds per outing for the Class 3A runners-up and was named the Courier-Journal Southern Indiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year. But those results didn’t come easy, she said.
After the move, Lilly’s school didn’t offer a fourth-grade basketball program, so Steve put together a team comprised of girls from the area – some familiar faces to this day. Although Lilly had a knack for shooting the ball “over the backboard a lot,” the mutual interest was evident.
“We were really, really bad,” Steve said. “She was not very good, either. We just weren’t good, (but) we had a lot of fun with it. We kept at it, kept practicing. A couple of those girls are now on our varsity team. … Basketball has been something healthy that we’ve been able to do and share together.”
Coincidentally, Lilly said she began to see a difference in the seventh grade. Behind the added practice, an AAU schedule and a 6-inch growth spurt, she gained a sense of confidence that has helped pave the way for success at the high school level. The Cats are 54-5 with Lilly on the roster, and her list of postseason accomplishments has already trumped her father’s, so naturally, Lilly gives him a hard time.
“I love (him),” Lilly said, “but I gotta use something.”
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North Harrison vies for another Class 3A state final appearance in its semi-state meeting with Danville at 6 p.m. Saturday inside Jeffersonville’s Johnson Arena. The Cats – made up of “four to five” college-level players, Steve said – were pleasantly surprised with last season’s run, but according to Lilly, this year is different.
“Last year, we didn’t really expect it,” Lilly said. “ … So now that I’ve been there and I’m over the awe factor, I want to go back and win it.”
In addition to team success, Lilly’s play has generated plenty of college interest for the 6-foot-1 sophomore forward. She has early scholarship offers from Evansville and Indiana State with “15-20” schools waiting for a visit before any further action, Steve said. Lilly’s decision will be based on academics, first and foremost, she said, with sights set on becoming a general practitioner.
As Lilly launched free throws Thursday morning, Steve said he will miss early-morning workouts with his daughter once she takes that next step. But the common bond between the two won’t soon be forgotten.
“Really and truly, basketball is just something that we’ve been able to enjoy together,” he said. “ … She’s taken that and ran (with it). It’s just been really neat because it’s something that we’ve been able to share.”