Imani Reid wasn’t even a year old yet the last time Hammond’s girls basketball program finished with a winning record.
It was the winter of 2002 and Reid’s mother, Mona, was in her first year as head coach of the Golden Bears varsity team. That group ended up posting an overall record of 21-7 and advancing all the way to the 2A state championship game.
In the 17 years since, however, Hammond has managed just two seasons with even double-digit victories — one coming during Imani’s freshman year during the 2015-16 campaign (10-12 record). So as she entered this winter, her final one suiting up for the Bears, Reid set her sights on leaving her mark by leading the program back to relevancy in the Howard County landscape.
And while she will be the first to tell you this has been a rollercoaster season at times, those lofty preseason goals are still within reach.
Hammond, coming off its biggest win of the season at the end of last week against Oakland Mills, is sitting at 10-9 overall with three regular season games left and Reid personally is 31 points away from eclipsing 1,000 points for her career.
The Golden Bears’ four-year team captain recently sat down to discuss chasing down those milestones, her growth off the court as a dancer, and her decision to continue her basketball career next winter for Division I Bethune-Cookman University.
Growing up around the Hammond program, how much attention did you pay to the performance of the team prior to arriving in high school?
Honestly, growing up I didn’t really pay any attention to wins or losses. It was all about the players themselves. A lot of them used to babysit me, so I got to know them and I built relationships that way. I would go to games, but I really just wanted to see them succeed as players. It wasn’t really until I got here that the overall team performance started to matter. My freshman year here we had a really good team and as we started to have some success, that’s when people started talking and I realized just how big of gap it had been since the last team to have a winning season.
So what does it mean then to be having arguably your best year as team this season as a senior?
It’s been exciting, but also a little sad. Getting Taylor [Liguori] back this season, the puzzle pieces have really come together. Knowing that this is the last year for me here, though that’s the sad part. The hope is that we can keep this season going as long as possible and then pass down the expectations to the underclassmen of what coach [Ryan] Hudy and coach Brandon [Hopp] want so that they can keep everything going in the right direction.
How has your perspective changed through your years on the team?
When I was in middle school, I actually had the opportunity to either go to Howard or to come here to Hammond. And I remember feeling like since I had grown up around Hammond my entire life, it was an easy choice beyond just because my mom was the coach. The atmosphere has always felt like home to me. The people truly care and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. And I think now as a senior, all my experiences have confirmed that I made the right decision. I don’t think, for me anyway, the high school experience has ever been just about wins and losses.
You mention that you could have gone to Howard, which won the county title each of your first three years of high school. Have you ever allowed yourself to wonder what it would have been like had you gone there?
Sure, you naturally think about things like that in your head sometimes. But I feel like everything happens the way it is supposed to. I got my exposure in terms of colleges through playing AAU [with Havoc City], so I think the experience here at Hammond helped me in terms of my growth as a person. I was forced to focus on being a leader in addition to basketball.
What was it like being in such a huge role your freshman year at Hammond?
I was actually chosen that first year to be captain by some of the girls on the team and that was definitely nerve-wracking. I was worried some of the upperclassmen wouldn’t want to listen to a freshman that hadn’t been playing basketball as long as they had. But to my surprise they actually did listen and they did respect me as a leader, so that was a huge confidence boost and it helped shape who I am today.
How different has this season been with your mom stepping down as coach and how has that affected your basketball relationship with her?
When she was the coach, everything we talked about in terms of basketball came from a coaching perspective. So now Hudy is the coach and he has that role, so my mom — who is still my trainer — can watch as a parent and focus more on the little critiquing in terms of my game. The first couple games was definitely a little weird not having her there on the sideline, but I’ve played for different coaches before on AAU and will again when I get to college.
Run me through the college recruiting process and what led to you ultimately deciding on Bethune-Cookman?
My top three schools through the recruiting process were Bethune-Cookman, George Mason and University of Charlotte. I went on visits to all three, talked to a lot of people, and I just felt at home at Bethune. Between the coaching staff, the staff members, my future teammates … everybody just welcomed me and it felt like the perfect fit.
Former Long Reach High standout Kiana Williams is already at Bethune-Cookman and was named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week three times this year. How well do you know her?
Outside of basketball, during high school I never really spoke to her much or hung with her. But during the recruiting process she has reached out a lot more and I feel like it’s exciting to have another familiar face and talented player that I already know on the team.
In addition to basketball, I know you have developed into an accomplished dancer. How did you get involved with that?
I started dancing my freshman year and there is a tryout that everyone goes through to see where you get placed. I was three points away from making JCo (Junior Dance Company) and I remember how scared I was going into that because that was my first tryout for anything besides basketball. But my mom and dad always talked to me about how I needed to step outside of my box and do something other than basketball. So that all was a big growth experience, being cut from something for the first time. But the fact that I was so close was encouraging and I stuck with it, starting with Dance 4 — which is the level right below JCo. That opened a whole bunch of doors in terms of dance critique and different genres … I moved my way up to this year when I’ve been JCo captain.
Did you ever see it becoming this serious for you, to the point where you missed a basketball game earlier this month for a dance performance?
Absolutely not. No way did I think I would reach this level with dance. But being captain, there are certain responsibilities that go along with that and the recent trip [to Disney World] is one of them. Thankfully in talking to coach Hudy and coach Brandon they accepted it with open arms. They want us to be successful outside of basketball as well, which is something I really admire about them.
When you look at the rest of this basketball season, how much have you thought about that 1,000-point milestone?
It’s definitely been lingering for awhile and I think it’s something that means even a little more knowing that my mom is also on the list [of 1,000-point scorers]. So when I do get there, the fact that we will be the first mother-daughter to be on the list together, that’s something really special. Honestly, that’s probably the last major personal goal on my high school list. I’ve had other things in basketball and in high school in general that I wanted to accomplish and that’s the headliner right now of what’s left.
Outside of that personal goal, what needs to happen the rest of the way to make this a successful season?
Honestly, I just want to see us play as a team. We’ve shown here and there what we are capable of, now we just have to do it consistently. There are so many different talents on this team that are capable of doing so much, but for some reason they still doubt themselves sometimes. I know I still believe we have what it takes to make a run.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports