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Hannah Wascher can rub some people the wrong way.
The Rantoul Township High School senior realizes that.
“People have the wrong impression of me,” said the forward who vaulted herself to the top of the Eagles’ all-time scoring list on Jan. 7 against Mahomet-Seymour. “I’m one to voice my opinion and let it be known if something’s wrong. On the court, I’ll yell, but it’ll be constructive criticism. If people really know how I am, they’ll understand my yelling and my tones, and that’s just from playing with each other.
“In no way do I try to offend anyone on the team because when people do something good, I’ll tell them. When they make a mistake, they need to be reminded. That really irks my nerves. When I say it, people think I’m trying to hound on them.”
Ask 100 people who have watched the four-year varsity starter — who has 1,696 career points going into Thursday night’s home game against Prairie Central — play and 100 different responses might come out.
A force inside, but ... she has a poor attitude.
A prolific scorer, but ... she doesn’t get along with her teammates.
A tenacious rebounder, but ... she talks back to the officials.
A consistent double-double threat every game, but ... the Eagles don’t win enough.
A well-known player in the area, but ... one who thought of transferring from RTHS.
On multiple occasions.
When athletes produce the way Wascher has on the court during her high school career, it’s always easy for critics to point out her flaws.
Or for them to take shots at her, fairly or unfairly.
Some of the criticisms of her game are valid.
She lets her emotions show on the court.
When she’s unhappy about a foul call, it’s plain to see.
Or if a teammates’ pass winds up in the hands of an opponent, she might not sprint back on defense all the time.
Some aren’t valid.
She has improved her shooting touch. She consistently blocks shots without getting fouls called on her.
She, more times than not, finishes a basket even with two or three defenders hanging on her.
“I get a lot of, ‘Oh, she’s not that good,’ or ‘She’s not everything people say she is,’” Wascher said. “Until you see me play or know the kind of style that I play, you can’t really say that stuff.”
Wascher has rarely left the court in her four years at RTHS because of her production.
If the Eagles hope to spring a few upsets in the Class 3A regional they will host in less than a month, they’ll need Wascher to supply plenty of points and rebounds like she has done numerous times throughout her career.
“I like the game to be physical,” Wascher said. “I don’t like it where you can just run out and get the ball. Aggressiveness makes it more fun, and if you can overpower somebody on the box out or jump over them, it just makes you feel better about yourself and your game. If you can just get the ball and easily put it in, that’s no fun.”
The early days
Angie Wascher wanted her two children to at least try sports.
The mom of Hannah and Logan Wascher had played both volleyball and basketball at Fisher.
“Ever since I can remember she was playing something,” Angie said of Hannah, “but she always had a basketball.”
The earliest children can sign up to play basketball in the Rantoul Recreation Department youth league is when they’re 5 years old.
That’s how old Hannah was when she first started playing organized basketball.
“I didn’t mind playing it at the time,” Hannah said, “although I don’t think I actually started to like playing basketball until it was competitive when I was a little bit older.”
The switch started to come during her elementary school years. When the Rec Department league she played in switched from playing at the Youth Center to the Forum is when her appreciation and love of the game started to grow.
“The little kids played at the Youth Center, and when you were a big kid, you played at the Forum,” Hannah said. “That’s when you actually wanted to win games and had a score.”
The middle schools days
Hannah’s basketball career progressed to J.W. Eater Junior High School in Rantoul.
“My sixth-grade year I wasn’t good,” Hannah said. “I kind of made myself look like a fool sometimes out there. The summer before my seventh-grade year I started to get better, and my eighth-grade year I really grew into my body and everything else came.”
Charles Dooley first saw Hannah play when she was in seventh grade.
Her assistant coach on Eater’s seventh-grade team who later was her head coach during her eighth-grade season with the Bulldogs saw the natural potential — the soft shooting touch, the aggressive rebounding ability — and thought if she grew a bit more and kept working at the game, she could turn into quite the player.
“As an eighth-grader she was a team leader who wanted to win and pushed her teammates to work harder,” Dooley said. “It just shows that she has worked to improve her craft, and that she was willing to make sacrifices to achieve her goals.”
Eater played Champaign Jefferson Middle School during Wascher’s seventh-grade season.
Stu Meacham — the father of former Illinois men’s basketball player Trent Meacham — coached Jefferson.
He also coached an AAU team called the Illini Swish.
If Hannah’s basketball itch wasn’t satisfied yet, it was close.
A simple question from Meacham catapulted the interest into what it is today.
“He’s the one who really approached her and asked her, ‘Hey, would you be interested in trying out?’” Angie recalled. “She went to tryouts and thought, ‘Maybe I am good enough to compete.’ I think from there is when she really thought, ‘OK, I can do this.’”
She started playing with the Swish after her eighth-grade season, and did so for the next three summers.
Even when the Swish changed its name to C-U Elite, Hannah’s game continued to develop.
“Even at an early age she had excellent balance, footwork and jumping ability for a post player,” Meacham said. “Hannah’s strength, jumping ability and soft shot, including excellent use of the backboard, make her a natural scorer.”
Natural now. Not so natural when Bobby Hoggard, one of her AAU coaches, first laid eyes on her.
“She would not shoot the basketball,” he said. “(She) never, ever looked at the basket. (She was the) best rebounder and post defender on the court, (but) would not shoot. I remember when the light came on. We had been telling her she needed to at least look at the basket. She caught the ball on the baseline, turned, looked at the basket, blew by her defender and put the ball in the basket. She’s been a 20-point scorer ever since.”
At 6 feet tall, Wascher has the size to score at ease in the post.
Add that with her strength, it’s almost a foregone conclusion she’ll produce inside.
But it’s her jumping ability, according to C-U Elite’s current director Kenny Bilger, that sets her apart from other tall post players.
“Over the years Hannah has focused a lot of her improvement efforts on becoming a dominating low-post scoring threat,” he said. “Hannah is also a very quick jumper off the floor, and she combines this with her great strength to become an almost unstoppable post scorer at times.”
Unstoppable, sure. But it hasn’t always been easy.
The decision to stay
Hannah is a fan of LeBron James.
A quick quiz on some basics about the NBA’s most dominating player — where he went to high school (St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio) and his jersey number upon entering the NBA (23 before he switched to 6) — produce the right answers with no pause by Wascher.
But, like her favorite NBA player, Wascher had to make a decision about where to take her basketball talents. She almost didn’t come to RTHS.
“It was actually a very big consideration,” she said of not attending RTHS. “Even before I came into high school, I considered St. Thomas More. They have a good program.”
Great in fact. The Sabers are a legitimate favorite to win a 2A state title and only lost 60-51 on Jan. 12 to Chicago Whitney Young, the top 4A girls basketball program in the state this season.
Plus, Wascher had developed a relationship with Chris Mennig, the Sabers head coach, during her time playing AAU basketball.
“There were a lot of factors that went into me not going there,” Wascher said. “Leaving my friends and going into high school is a big thing. You want your friends around.”
But that wasn’t the first time talk of not going to RTHS was brought up. Toward the end of her sophomore season and junior season, the possibility was raised of transferring to Mahomet-Seymour.
“Mahomet was definitely where I was going to go,” Wascher said. “I know lots of people there and have some family friends in the area. Going into my senior year is probably when I thought about (transferring) the most. I wanted to go to college to play basketball. I hadn’t had many looks.”
Ultimately, she decided to close her career out at RTHS. With younger sister Logan, now a sophomore, at RTHS, Angie and Jason, Hannah’s father, didn’t want to have their two daughters going to two different schools plus have all the other effects of switching schools.
“It would have been too difficult, and both of them play sports year-round,” Angie said. “If we would have had to go to two different schools, I don’t see how that would have worked. Sometimes I kick myself in the butt saying we should have (gone to St. Thomas More).”
Jason said the lack of success RTHS has had during his daughter’s career prompted discussion of switching schools.
“It’s been trying,” he said. “You finally look forward to them playing on the same nights and you get in the same school, you really don’t want them going to two different high schools. That really just wasn’t fair to (Logan).”
The rest of high school
Her individual exploits to date at RTHS are well-chronicled.
She reached the 1,000-point club during her junior season on Jan. 23, 2012, and surpassed 1,500 career points against Decatur Eisenhower on Dec. 29.
A fastbreak layup against, ironically, Mahomet-Seymour on Jan. 7 eclipsed the 1,596-point total 1998 RTHS graduate Yolanda Smith had established.
“When she made (the layup), my heart sunk,” Angie said,” and when she got her 1,000th point, after the game, I just cried.”
Hannah felt like crying after her freshman season. Her head coach, Brett Frerichs, resigned from coaching the Eagles to become the new head boys basketball coach at RTHS.
“Out of all four years, that was probably the best year,” Hannah said. “It was fun but serious at the same time. We always did team things and had little jokes within the team. (Frerichs) knew when to be serious, and he knew when to have fun. He had that line. He made the basketball season really fun.”
The Eagles went 9-21 during Wascher’s freshman season, but so far, that is the best they have fared during her time at RTHS.
A 2-25 season ensued under first-year head coach Jeff McKaufsky during her sophomore season, which was a little better last year when RTHS went 6-23.
At 7-16 going into Thursday night’s home game against Prairie Central, the Eagles have already eclipsed last year’s win total, but will most likely finish under .500 again this season.
Frerichs has watched Wascher’s career from the stands since her freshman year, but is not surprised with the points she has put up.
“She had the potential and the talent,” he said. “I thought she’d develop more into a perimeter player, but she has great hands and great touch around the basket. She just has the ability to score points.”
McKaufsky’s first season was rough. The Eagles had to replace several key seniors off Frerichs’ final team, but having Wascher produce like she did on a consistent basis eased some of the tension for a first-year high school coach.
“I coached against her in seventh and eighth grade when I was coaching at St. Malachy and she was playing at Eater, so I knew she was tough inside,” McKaufsky said. “Even after her eighth-grade year and into her freshman year is when she made the big step and really became dominant. Having a dominant post player like that definitely helps out the team, so after taking the job, that was one thing I was grateful for to have a presence inside and that she was only going to be a sophomore.”
Wascher will play basketball in college.
She’s just not saying publicly where at this point.
“She has notified the coach, but I think she wants to wait until after basketball to tell (the public),” Angie said. “She told the family at Christmas, and we were sworn not to tell. I just don’t think she wants to hear people question her decision.”
Growing up, Hannah had dreams of someday suiting up with Lisa Leslie or Candace Parker in the WNBA. While she understands that’s probably not realistic anymore, she is grateful her playing career will extend past RTHS.
“I play basketball because I love it,” she said. “To go to college and play ball, I’m happy with it.”
She plans to major in accounting and become a certified public accountant. Having grown up in Rantoul, she wants to see what else is out there.
“I just like numbers,” Hannah said. “I don’t want to stay around here, but a job is a job, especially in this economy.”
Wise words from a high school senior who has — despite her bad attitude at times, her outspoken nature and her stubbornness — reworked the girls basketball record book during a bumpy, sometimes tumultuous, yet productive career at RTHS.
“She wants to be put into the (RTHS) Hall of Fame,” Jason said. “That’s one of her big things. She wants to come back 10 years from now to a football game and get put in there. I think, for the most part, even some of the students will think back that she was a good athlete. Yeah, she might have had an attitude, but she’s a good girl. She makes me proud.”