Whitney Hay wants to go back to her roots for her final high school basketball season.
“It started out as I just wanted to have fun,” she said of when she began playing basketball all those years ago. “I didn’t know anything about college or high school or how serious AAU is. It just started building from there.
“I went to little league and I did really good. I went to middle school, did really good. Then went to high school and started playing AAU and it’s all increased from just trying to have fun.”
The Elizabethtown senior will continue her academic and athletic careers at Belmont University, where she will be a member of the women’s basketball program.
“Out of all the schools that had offered me and that I was still talking to and that were thinking about offering me, I just liked Belmont better,” Hay said. “I like how much they cared about me before I committed. The coaches and the players there were all really nice.”
Before heading a couple hours south to Nashville, Tennessee Hay has some unfinished business.
“I just want to focus on getting my team as far as I can and trying to have as much fun as possible,” she said. “Just trying to have as much fun as possible. That’s the goal. I focused on too much stuff last year, trying to get this specifically done. I just need to have as much fun as I can.”
Hay has been a member of the Lady Panthers’ program since her eighth-grade year and has made a trip to the Sweet 16 every other year.
“The summer after freshman year was the first time I talked to a school,” she said. “My AAU coach told me that I needed to call them and that they were interested in me. That’s when it all started. I was in bed asleep and my dad woke me up and said, ‘You’re supposed to call this college tomorrow.’”
And it didn’t stop.
“When they could first start texting you and stuff, it was insane,” Hay said of the recruiting process. “I would get 50 texts from coaches and all these letters. It would just get really overwhelming ... and calling people at a certain time.
“It was stressful. I would get so paranoid with getting to play a certain way for a certain coach being there. I feel like now I can play however I want, just be me. That’s what they wanted. They wanted me to be me.
“Having to play a certain way because this coach was gonna be there, I would get so nervous. I just wanted to be myself, but I would still get nervous.”
Hay has made a name for herself since playing in 27 games as an eighth-grader in 2015-16, when she scored the first of her 1,826 points.
“I started working extremely hard,” she said.
Hay averaged 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a freshman on a team that went 28-4 and lost in the 5th Region Tournament championship game.
“I was really intimidated by everyone else on the team until sophomore year. I was scared to mess up,” she said.
Since then, though, she averaged 20.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as the Lady Panthers went 64-8 over the past two seasons.
Hay is shooting just under 80 percent from the free throw line (250-for-315), just under 40 percent from 3 (135-for-338), just under 60 percent from 2 (410-for-687) and just over 53 percent from the floor (545-for-1025) the past two years.
“My goal was to play, not really as high as I could, but the best fit for me,” she said. “Everybody wants to play as high as they can. I could have chosen a bigger-name school, but I think this school fits me really well.”
Belmont is coached by Bart Brooks, who is in his third season. He is 57-11 with back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances.
“Whitney is a highly-skilled offensive player and can score from anywhere on the floor,” Brooks said on the school’s website. “She has great size and will be a very difficult match-up for opposing teams on our schedule.”
Hay, last season’s Area Player of the Year, has seen herself grow in two areas since donning the Elizabethtown jersey.
“Confidence and being a leader,” she said. “Playing for Coach (Donnie) Swiney has been great. I feel really comfortable around him. We’re really close and the team’s really close.”