Young’s Khaalia Hillsman has grown into quite the force

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Success doesn’t always come naturally — even when you’re 6-5.

Two years ago, Young’s Khaalia Hillsman probably would have never put up the numbers she did in Monday’s 57-39 Class 4A Hinsdale Central Supersectional victory over Neuqua Valley — 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.

As a sophomore, Hillsman was just a tall girl who could rebound and generally took a backseat to the dynamic trio of Alexis Lloyd, Janee Thompson and Linnae Harper. Even last year with the graduation of Lloyd and Thompson, Hillsman’s numbers only improved slightly.

But Monday’s performance is more typical of what Young coach Corry Irvin has come to expect from her senior center.

“Khaalia’s made a lot of great strides, especially offensively, since her freshman year,” Irvin said. “She always hustled and she would box out on rebounds, but she’s made a lot more strides offensively. She’s gotten a lot stronger and has started to understand the game better.”

Like many adolescents who experience early growth spurts, Hillsman’s skills needed time to catch up with her body.

“With taller girls when they’re younger, usually it takes them a while to develop,” Irvin said. “Sometimes they don’t even develop until they’re 19 or 20 years old. They don’t have to develop a lot of skills because people think you just throw them the ball and they make a layup.

“Khaalia’s a great kid and a breath of fresh air because she really doesn’t understand her potential yet. She’s just starting to understand how good she can be. She’s still really humble, which is nice when you have someone with that level of ability.”

Hillsman, who is rated No. 46 overall and sixth-best post player in the nation by ESPN, credits Irvin and her teammates for her transition from unsteady freshman to five-star recruit.

“I really have my teammates and coaches to thank,” Hillsman said. “They were really patient with me. I don’t even have the words to express how great my coach (Irvin) has been to me. I really appreciate everything she’s done; her and everybody else involved.

“I feel all the time we spend, all the time they put in me is finally paying off.”

Hillsman is committed to play at Texas A&M. Playing in the SEC will allow her to get reacquainted with Thompson and Harper, who attend Kentucky.

“Texas A&M has a beautiful campus, great team, great coaches,” Hillsman said. “I’m really excited to work with [head] coach Gary Blair and [assistant] coach [Bob] Starkey. I’m excited to go down there and prove what I can do.”

Her new teammates will also find she doesn’t mind standing out in a crowd.

“I’m a pretty goofy person, especially around my teammates,” Hillsman said. “They’re like my second family, so I feel really comfortable around them.”

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