March 22, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Rachel Hollivay''s circle of basketball contacts is growing.
The New Hope High School freshman on Wednesday received an invitation to attend the Nike Girls Regional Skills Academy event at Norcross High School in Atlanta on April 25-26.
Participation in each of the five regional events is limited to 40 participants and is by invitation only.
Hollivay received the letter with the Nike "Swoosh" emblem on Wednesday and immediately showed it to her father, Ray, and started to jump up and down in excitement.
"I am just real happy that I getting a chance to go to the Nike Skills Academy," Hollivay said. "It''s a challenge. I know I have a lot of stuff to work on. I hope I am ready for it."
Hollivay, who is 6-foot-4 and plays center in high school, plays Amateur Athletic Union basketball with the Florida Essence program out of Tallahassee, Fla.
Kimberly Davis-Powell, who founded the Essence program 13 years ago, first learned of Hollivay from former East Oktibbeha standout April Sykes, who is now a freshman at Rutgers University.
Sykes also played AAU basketball with Florida Essence and told Davis-Powell there was a seventh-grader in Columbus "she had to get."
Davis-Powell remembers Sykes telling her she could make Hollivay "one of the best players in the country" if she brought her into the Florida Essence program.
Hollivay has been working toward that goal for the past two seasons. Davis-Powell said Hollivay''s selection to the regional Nike Skills Academy is the third step in her progression. The first came when Hollivay showed her skills at a Nike Boo Williams tournament. The second came when Hollivay played at Nike Nationals, an event that attracts the top age-group teams from across the country.
Davis-Powell said Hollivay has the potential to earn a spot on the United States Under-16 team, to earn an invitation to the national Nike Skills Academy camp, and to be an Olympian.
Those are lofty goals Davis-Powell feels Hollivay can reach.
"The first time I saw her as a seventh-grader she was so tall and so coordinated I knew right then and there that this kid will be a star," Davis-Powell said. "There are not that many young kids who are that tall and who are that coordinated. She also has a good reaction time on blocking shots."
Davis-Powell ranks Hollivay as one of the top 10 freshmen in the country. She said her improvement has been so drastic that she is better than many upperclassmen across the country.
Hollivay isn''t about to get overconfident, though. She said there are many parts of her game she wants to improve, including her dribbling with her left hand. She also is learning how to dribble the ball lower to the ground.
Last weekend, Hollivay had an opportunity to go through a two-day training session conducted by former NBA standout Dee Brown in Ocala, Fla. The Florida Essence hired Brown to run the workout for all of its players.
Hollivay said the session was "hard" and that Brown worked the girls "like boys." But she said the drill work on fundamentals showed her how hard she will need to work to continue to improve if she wants to become one of the nation''s top players.
Hollivay said she doesn''t know any of the kids who will attend the regional Nike Skills Academy. She knows the experience will be fun and filled with a lot of hard work.
"I just have to work hard," Hollivay said. "I have to push myself to make myself better and to listen to what they have to say because I know they have been through what I am going through now."
With the experience at Dee Brown''s training sessions fresh on her mind, Hollivay isn''t sure if the regional Nike Skills Academy event will be tougher, but she is eager to find out.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.