Hale overcomes incredible odds to find success at CMU
Even then, he saw something special and vowed to keep his eye on the talented basketball player better known as NeNe.
He didn’t know it at the time but their paths would cross many times again before Hale finally joined his squad this season.
She’s been worth the wait.
The 5-foot-8 sophomore transfer leads the team in scoring at 18.7 points while ranking among the leaders with 5.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
Hale has also provided a toughness you can’t teach and a warmness you can’t mistake.
“Off the court, she is completely different than most people would think,” Ray told me. “When you see her, she has the tattoos and the flat-billed sports caps, but she is one of the smartest ladies on the team and has been on the Dean’s List every semester she’s been enrolled here at CMU.
“Her teammates absolutely love her. Her work ethic in the classroom and on the court is second to none.”
Ray has known Hale since back in the day when he coached the Mat-Su Mavericks club team and the Alaska Lady Hoops. He worked with her until her sophomore year of high school when he lost touch.
“She and her siblings were homeless,” Ray said. “Somehow, someway, a family found her and got her back in school in the Valley.”
Hale played her final year of high school basketball at Houston and she graduated from Burchell with honors.
“Her mentor at the time, Michelle Overstreet, got her back to playing basketball and asked her what she wanted to do with her life. NeNe mentioned going to college and playing basketball for me again,” Ray said.
“It just so happened that I had moved down to Missouri and joined the staff at CMU. My head coach watched about three minutes of some game film on her and told me to get on a flight and sign her.”
Things didn’t go quite as planned, though.
Hale never suited up for the first year. The following year she tried a couple of junior colleges the following before she found herself back at CMU in the spring of 2015.
“We had a coaching change that summer, so it was like a brand new start for her. Coach Mike Davis believes in letting players play and NeNe has excelled in this new system,” Ray said. “We do what we can to open the court and let her do what she does best, which is score.”
Hale has surpassed the 20-point plateau in seven of 14 games, highlighted by a 30-point against Stephens.
“NeNe is very hard for opponents to guard. She has a great stroke from the outside and will size you up and attack the basket, if you overplay her,” Ray said. “She scores a variety of different ways, which makes it difficult for her defenders. I would have to say that her ability to put the ball on the floor and go with her right or left hand is what she does best.”
Hale’s success is contagious, the coach said, and she motivates anyone in her company.
“I think it’s safe to say that NeNe is by far one of the toughest competitors you’ll ever meet,” Ray said. “Leadership has not always been her strong suit. Those that know her know how quiet she is and what her struggles have been.
“She’s never been one to seek attention or leadership positions. But this year we appointed her and one of our freshman recruits team captains. Coach Davis basically told her she was getting the keys to the castle and had to take care of it. She has thrived in that position. And although she is still very hesitant to call people out publicly, she leads by example day in and day out.”