Nazahrah Hillmon-Baker Makes a Name for Herself in a Family of Athletes
No matter what Nazahrah Hillmon-Baker has accomplished on the basketball court in her young career, she rarely, if ever, has held bragging rights over her mom.
That all changed two months ago when Hillmon-Baker informed her mother, NaSheema (Hillmon) Anderson, that she had earned a place on the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team.
Bragging rights secured — forever.
Over the years, Anderson often used her lengthy list of achievements on the hardwood to continue motivating her daughter to reach higher. When “Naz” — as she is called by her friends and family — would tell her mother of a new benchmark she reached on the court, such as setting her high school’s rebounding record, her mother playfully noted having done the same when she was a star player in the Cleveland area where the family still resides.
I’m first-team all-state, mom.
I’m the Player of the Year, mom.
Been there. Done that.
But Hillmon-Baker reached a height no other person in her family can lay claim to, and it is quite an accomplished family when it comes to basketball. She is the first to represent her country as a member of one of its national teams.
“It’s awesome,” Hillmon-Baker said. “It still hasn’t sunk in as being real. It’s something that I could only imagine until this point. I’m very thankful and blessed to be in this situation.”
Two years ago, Hillmon-Baker received her passport, allowing her to travel outside the country. She applied for it, as many young players do, when she was invited to her first USA Basketball training camp. She was hopeful of making the 2016 USA U17 World Cup Team and earned a spot as one of 16 finalists, but fell just shy of making the 12-woman roster.
She finally will use her passport later this summer as a 6-foot-1 forward on a team coached by the University of Louisville’s Jeff Walz, with the University of Delaware’s Natasha Adair and UCLA’s Cori Close as assistants.
First, Hillmon-Baker will travel back to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for training camp on July 20. The team will depart for the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, which will be held Aug. 1-7, 2018, in Mexico City, Mexico.
Hillmon-Baker said she received a report two years ago from USA Basketball explaining why she didn’t make the team that summer. It said she wasn’t seen as a strong scoring threat and she wasn’t as aggressive on the court as the evaluating committee wanted her to be. Hillmon-Baker said that report helped her the second time around.
“I think it was me trying to be more confident this time and just going out there and trying to play as hard as I could every moment that I was on the floor,” she said. “I think that definitely helped for me. I think I did that last time, but I wasn’t as aggressive in doing other things like scoring.
“This time I tried to incorporate a little more scoring and tried to stay tough on defense, rebounding and tried to incorporate vocals and tried to be encouraging to my teammates. So, I think the mixture of trying to be my best at everything and making sure that at every point I was working hard, I think that definitely played a huge role in it.”
Now she has her sights set on another benchmark she can bring back home to share with her family: her first gold medal in international play.
It would be another first for a family that includes an uncle, Jawad Williams, who won a national title during his college career at the University of North Carolina and an aunt, Siedah Williams, who won four Ohio state high school championships before a college career at the University of Virginia. Hillmon-Baker’s mom also won an Ohio high school state title, as did her aunt, Adjoni Williams.
“I just want to feel like I came out, and after the experience I want to be a better player and a better teammate,” Hillmon-Baker said of her goals this summer. “I definitely want to contribute. I just know that if I can’t contribute scoring or rebounding, defensively I definitely want to be that person everyone looks to for encouragement and be a contributor to the team in some aspect.”