NEW HAVEN — It really was touch-and-go last summer whether or not the Hillhouse girls basketball team would lose its two cornerstones for the upcoming 2018-19 season to prep school.
“It was very close. People were putting (ideas) in my head that it (prep school) was a better opportunity,” Hillhouse senior Tyree Allen said.
But both Allen and teammate Tanayja London “trusted the process” as Hillhouse coach Catrina Hawley-Stewart said, a process that led to a Class L state championship and the two cornerstones signing national letters of intent on Wednesday to Division I schools.
London, a 6-foot forward, signed with Iona out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference while Allen, a 5-8 guard, signed to play at Coppin State, which competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
“It was a really big factor (the duo transferring),” Hawley-Stewart said. “You have coaches who have been there and have relationships. Moving from one place to another, if a kid isn’t completely committed, if the kid isn’t working 100 percent, it doesn’t matter where they go, so trust our history here at Hillhouse. … It’s just proof that if you work hard during the season and you recruit the schools and the schools recruit you, it can happen for you.”
Allen averaged 15 points, six rebounds, four steals and five assists for the Class L state champions. She was named MVP of the championship game against Hand and finished with 963 career points.
Allen, 17, said she also received interest from Jackson State, Sacred Heart, Fairfield and Southeastern Louisiana, but said the moment she stepped on the Coppin State campus, it “felt like home. Normally when you go to places, it doesn’t feel the same. I felt like I belonged, I loved it. It felt just like New Haven.”
Allen verbally committed two weeks ago.
“Playing D1 was a goal for me, a dream since I was little. My stepfather (Maurice Williamson at LSU) played D1 basketball, my brother (Tavon Allen at Drexel) played D1 basketball and I knew I had to,” Tyree Allen said. “But sometimes, I actually thought that wasn’t going to happen. I stopped believing in myself, but you guys (her Hillhouse coaches and teammates) changed that a lot. … The state championship was our goal since our freshman year, but our main goal was to go to college for free and that’s what happened by staying here.”
London, was a Register All-State selection this season and is a two-time All-Area pick. She averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks per game. She scored over 1,000 career points.
London thanked her immediate family for “being the biggest fans I could ever ask for, always telling me to believe in my dreams and helping to pave the path to greatness for me.”
London, who verbally committed to Iona in February, served as a ballgirl during Hillhouse’s last state championship season in 2011.
“Once she gave me the opportunity to be the ball girl at Hillhouse, she told me I was going to play for her and she pushed me to know that hard work should never go unnoticed and that you should never settle,” London said.
These are the first two players from Hillhouse to sign with Division I schools since Bria Holmes (West Virginia) and Colleen Smith (Illinois) in 2012.
“With the relationships we have with both sets of parents, they were able to see past the smoke,” Hawley-Stewart said. “They are academically sound, so why go to a prep school and repeat a year academically when they didn’t need it? … Their skill level, leadership on the floor and understanding of the game led us to this point.”
Allen intends to major in health science while London will major in mass communications.