As she strode toward the gymnasium exit after a pedestrian 12-point game against visiting Whiteland, Columbus North sophomore center Imani Guy was summoned by head coach Pat McKee.
A coach from the University of Toledo’s women’s basketball team had just watched her play and told McKee that he was hoping Guy would have interest in his program. McKee supplied the contact information if his sophomore wanted to follow up.
Guy, displaying little emotion, simply nodded and then headed toward the door.
While many high school athletes would do backflips knowing that a Division I athletics scholarship might be in the works, it was nothing new for the 6-foot-4 Guy, whose height draws attention whether she is on the basketball court or in the supermarket.
Story continues below gallery
McKee stressed that college coaches value quickness above all else, yet being tall has to rank up there. After all, Guy received more than 25 letters of interest from college basketball programs before she got to high school.
Consider that Guy, who came off the bench against Whiteland, has started only a handful of games at North yet demands attention.
That attention might not come in a positive form at times. Being extremely tall, Guy has to live with the perception that she should be a varsity star, despite the fact that most sophomores don’t play a key role on a high school varsity team.
Across town, sophomore center Gracie Hatton, who is 6-foot-1, faces similar perceptions at Columbus East. Under head coach Danny Brown, the Olympians have a wealth of young talent, including three freshmen who are playing significant roles.
East has been taking its lumps, and that is understandable as the underclassmen learn. However, Hatton is 6-foot-1, so she should be a star, shouldn’t she?
Hatton’s mother, Julie Comer, played on the Columbus East 1979-80 girls basketball that went to the state Final Four with Maria Stack leading the way.
“Basketball is a passion for me,” Comer said. “But it’s not necessarily her passion.”
While Hatton enjoys playing basketball, her mom said that “saving the world” is a bigger priority for her and that her emphasis might be concentrated on academic pursuits. However, people don’t come up to Hatton and ask if she studies medicine.
“Everywhere we go, people ask if she plays basketball,” Comer said.
Both Hatton and Guy, due to their size, have been perceived to be older than their actual age as well.
“When Imani was younger, she struggled more with her height,” said her mom, Raegan Guy. “When she was 3, she was treated like she was 7. And when she was in sixth grade, she already was 6 feet tall.”
Hatton had many of the same experiences. “Gracie was skiing in Lawrenceburg last week, and the boys who were there thought she was a senior in college,” Comer said.
“When I was younger, I hated it,” Hatton said of her height. “Sometimes I wished I could blend in more.”
Neither really blends in when it comes to basketball expectations. People expect more from them.
Both had somewhat rocky freshmen basketball seasons.
“There was a point last year where it wasn’t fun at all,” said Gracie Hatton’s father, 6-foot-7 Eric Hatton. “But she has gotten used to it now. I think this season has been fun for her.”
It was much the same for Guy.
“Last year, as a freshman, I really was nervous,” Guy said. “My first game, I was scared because it was a lot bigger crowd. And a year ago, I only had one post move.”
With Ali Patberg’s career at Columbus North heading into its final month, the Bull Dogs will be searching for another dominating presence to take the program into the future. All eyes might turn to Guy.
At East, Hatton might have to dominate in the paint next season for the Olympians to begin competing for sectional titles again.
Is that fair, especially considering that tall kids, whether boys or girls, take time to find their coordination?
“We have to understand that there is no magic bullet,” McKee said. “There are things that just take more time. With Imani, the big picture is that she has made tremendous progress. Bigger colleges are very interested.
“There is an understanding that she is not a finished product. So far, she has done everything exactly the right way.”
McKee, who is about 6-foot-5 himself, said he went through an evolution during his own high school days where he was not adept at navigating his frame around a basketball court. For him, his best coordination didn’t come until his college days.
He understands that Guy’s best basketball might be played after she leaves North.
“That’s where you need to have patience,” McKee said. “Right now, we don’t start Imani, so some people might ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ Nothing is wrong. When we combine Imani with (junior center) Elle Williams, that’s a dynamic one-two punch in the post.
“There will be a day when Imani starts and plays big minutes. Now we are working on expanding her whole game. In drills, we have her play some point guard. She does every guard drill.”
Complicating matters is the fact opponents often double-team Guy due to her size. It has been frustrating at times.
Those who watch North girls basketball know Guy has made huge strides in terms of her defense and rebounding. She is working with personal trainer Shon Bolden, and that has made a big difference, according to Reagan Guy.
“In a short amount of time, her footwork and movements changed,” Reagan Guy said. “We are extremely thankful to Shon.”
Guy’s improvement started to accelerate once she reached Central Middle School and even more under her AAU coach, Rick Patberg.
“When she reached middle school, she blossomed,” Raegan Guy said. “She embraced her height and enjoyed basketball, instead of doing it because she was tall. She really enjoys her height now and her ability.”
Both Guy and Hatton played on Patberg’s Indiana Jewels team the past two summers.
“I first saw Imani in seventh grade,” Patberg said. “She was all arms and legs. Slowly, surely, she has started to develop. I would like to see how good she will be when she is a senior. She had struggled with strength, and now she is showing definition in her arms.
“Gracie always had great hand-eye coordination and strong hands. If you threw her the ball, she was going to get it.
“Do they both have some pressures? Well, Imani at 6-foot-4 can be compared to a guy who is 6-9 or taller. People would expect that guy to be good because of his size. It’s the same thing.”
As Guy and Hatton have honed their technique in high school, they face other similar issues. Neither is the most aggressive sort.
“Imani’s personality is much more quiet and reserved,” her mother said. “She is a very kind and loving kid. She never has been an aggressive, dominant force on the court or off. There was a point where her father (Broderick Guy) and I asked if this was for her. We knew she would have to start drawing it out of herself. She doesn’t have a Facebook account, and she keeps a low profile. She never has been a kid who owns the room. That’s not her personality.”
Comer said the same applies to her daughter.
“Moving forward, I know she has to learn to take more of a leadership role,” Comer said. “She is a born Christian leader. She apologizes to other girls if she hurts them. She has a kind heart, and she is not aggressive or competitive.
“She knows she has to be more aggressive. I told her that they need 12 points and 10 rebounds a game out of you.”
Both players appear ready to take their games up a notch in intensity.
“I think I am improving,” Imani Guy said. “I am learning now to go outside of my box.”
Hatton is OK with a bigger role as well.
“I think I am getting more comfortable,” she said. “I definitely hope I can be stronger, better, work harder, keep improving.”
Whether it will be enough for the fans, who knows?
Brown expects Hatton to make huge strides quickly.
“I don’t know if this is so much about patience as impatience,” he said. “We need to be impatient with getting her the ball more. We have been preaching to her that she needs to shoot the ball more.”
In a win against Madison on Jan. 24, Hatton had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“The Madison game was the best I’ve seen her play,” Brown said. “And she is going to get more comfortable.”
Guy’s role will continue to expand as well, and she is likely to enjoy being the center of attention.
“She wants it now because of her,” Raegan Guy said of her daughter. “Not because of parents or friends or coaches. She wants it for herself. That is what really has changed.
“And she is enjoying it. She is a good kid with a huge heart, and she has this gift.”
It’s a gift that Imani Guy doesn’t mind opening these days.
“I’m not scared anymore,” she said.
“We have to understand that there is no magic bullet. There are things that just take more time. With Imani, the big picture is that she has made tremendous progress.”
— Columbus North coach Pat McKee on his sophomore center Imani Guy
“I don’t know if this is so much about patience as impatience. We need to be impatient with getting her the ball more. We have been preaching to her that she needs to shoot the ball more.”
— Columbus East coach Danny Brown on sophomore center Gracie Hatton