Shonte Hailes is visiting her P.E. gym from the fourth grade. Her third grade year this air conditioned building was just dirt between two basketball goals. Her self-proclaimed mom was and still is the teacher.
A PowerPoint presentation is on the screen. It is explained to a gym of students that Shonte Hailes used to love to play basketball and wanted to play it all the time in P.E. The former QUE student smiles that same smile she had in 3rd grade and on the court at The University of Southern Mississippi when she nods to the class.
She explains, “I loved basketball. I played it whenever I could. I played it here. I played it at home. I played it on the weekends. Anytime I got a chance – I played basketball.”
Mrs. Hampton says to her students, “Like some of you.”
Three students raise their hands.
Hailes nods again.
“When I was growing up I lived by the gas station and had a neighbor who played. I would go and play with him. I wasn’t any good at first, but I kept playing and I kept getting better. When I was in 8th grade Coach Luckett asked me to tryout for high school. I didn’t want to, but then he told me to just go to the practice and play with them. So I did, and he called me to tell me that I made the team. I wasn’t even trying out. I wanted to play with my team, but he said, ‘No, you made the high school team. You have to play with them.”
She is the third woman athlete represented by the agency who has now arranged to fly her to Spain for what Hailes thinks may be sixteen or seventeen years before she retires from playing professional basketball. She explains,
“I’ll fly into Spain. I’ll visit the training facility when I get there. The only thing different is that I won’t have to go to class. I’ll just go to workout and practice and go home. The season starts in February. I’ll play in Switzerland in January. There will be levels to play, and my pay can get higher when I play on higher levels. The money is guaranteed and tax-free. I’ll be playing with Zaragoza in Spain, and I should know who I’ll be playing with in Switzerland in a couple of weeks.”
Shonte Hailes knows she will miss her hometown and is taking every opportunity to spend as much time with family and friends before she gets on a plane in New Orleans. This weekend she is driving to Louisiana to visit her best friend.
Hampton understands what the United States is losing as the twenty-two year old heads to Europe. She explains,
“We’ve been very fortunate to watch her develop and flourish into this accomplished athlete and amazing person. Our journey together through Quitman High and Southern Miss has been filled with her shattering glass ceilings all around her. To say Switzerland and Spain are lucky to have her is a true understatement. They won’t know what hit them because she’ll be the loudest, most energetic person in the room. Selfishly I would love to continue being attached at the hip when we see each other, but she has business to handle. She is now staring at her dreams head on. How can a best friend/sister not support every step of that?”
Former coaches Gina Skelton and Joye Lee McNelis agree that both Switzerland and Spain are in for the type of leadership that any coach would cherish. Coach Skelton is quick to write about the starting point guard for the 2016 MHSAA 4A Girls Basketball State Champions,
“Coaching her was like having another coach on the floor. She learned to recognize different defenses, presses and weaknesses in our opponents. It’s rare to have a high school point guard like that. She soaked up everything we taught her, and she used that knowledge to exploit the shortcomings of the other team. She has a very high basketball I.Q. because she is a student of the game and a competitor. She was exceptional at getting her teammates involved like a true point guard should. Just an all around great ball player, she always rose to whatever challenge we put before her. I mean, she could drill a 3 ball, take you off the dribble or pass through the eye of a needle. It was not unusual, if we had a player who was hurting us offensively, for her to ask to guard them. A lot of gifted athletes are a little on the cocky side, but she is very humble and has the most genuine personality. She does not meet a stranger and is enjoyable to be around. I have been blessed that she was and is a part of my life, a part of my heart. She is about to live her dream, and she deserves it.”
Coach McNelis recruited Hailes to play for The University of Southern Mississippi. She nods to Skelton’s assessment. Then adds,
“I am very proud of her and what she has accomplished in life and on the basketball court. I was blessed to have watched her grow at a time in her life when she was entering adulthood. While at Southern Miss, she grew as a person, student and athlete. She faced challenges and learned to be an overcomer. She came to our program with BIG DREAMS and graduated leaving her name etched in the record books. Everyone loves her. Her infectious smile and kind heart made our boosters and everyone she met feel special. She was a difference-maker while at Southern Miss. My belief is that she will continue to impact the lives around her and live her dream as a professional basketball player.”