Unranked, unsigned -- but not unnoticed
Aliyyah Handford of Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) is the best unsigned senior point guard
Difficult as it is to believe in these Tweeted out, YouTubed times, one occasionally gets away. A Jeremy Lin emerges without warning in the NBA. Or a dynamic leader of a nationally ranked team nears the end of her high school career without a college scholarship.
It could go without saying that Aliyyah Handford is at least the best unsigned senior prospect at point guard, a position as high in demand by college programs as any. She wouldn't mind that. She's unranked and unsigned, but certainly not unnoticed.
After all, during her first season at a new position, Handford last year averaged 12.5 points, 6.3 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 4.4 steals, led Malcolm X. Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) to its second straight NJSIAA Group 2 state championship, and was named to the all-state team.
"We try to make everything go through her," Shabazz coach Vanessa Watson said.
A growing number of college teams are latching onto a similar idea. Handford said she is considering Georgetown, Seton Hall, Pitt and Syracuse. She will commit a signature during the final National Letter of Intent signing period, April 11 to May 16.
That Handford wasn't snatched up a long time ago is the consequence of a new position, an injury and, to a lesser extent, academics. Otherwise, at 5-feet-9, she has good size for either backcourt position, great quickness and fearlessness. She is a relentless invader of the paint, sees plays for her teammates, and has the ability to stop and pop or navigate her way to the rim.
After her breakout season at Shabazz, Handford chipped a bone in her right knee and missed the entire summer evaluation season -- the critical one for rising seniors. She recently re-took the ACT. "I did OK the first time," she said, "but I wanted to get it a little higher." Watson said Handford was a victim of a couple turbulent years, academically, for Shabazz as a whole, but added that she has recovered nicely.
So has the Shabazz girls' basketball team. Last year, it added two uber-talented freshman inside players -- Zaire O'Neil, who is ranked No. 10 in the 2014 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, and DeAshia Jones -- but had graduated its starting backcourt, Ka-Deidre and Desiree Simmons, to the Big East. Out of necessity -- dire necessity -- to get those fab freshmen the ball, Watson plugged Handford, a natural scorer, into the point.
Watson has known Handford since she was in middle school and says, "She's always been a really fantastic player." So the position change wasn't a major leap. In fact, Watson said, "It's like she walked right into it."
"I just had to get used to it," Handford said.
Ask her if she feels overlooked, and Handford shakes her head, emphatically.
The youngsters are getting the ball. Shabazz is piling up victories. And in due time Handford is getting her college scholarship.
If or when anyone saw it all happen is beside the point.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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