The Evansville Courier & Press - It's lenghty but very informative.
NEWBURGH – Alex Hemenway’s eye-popping athleticism was evident at the age of three when his grandmother bought him a Fisher-Price Triple Hit Baseball machine. Since then, he hasn’t let a broken arm or nose derail him on the road to success.
That toy could be used as a tee, or you could push a button and it would pop the ball up to be hit. “That was my first hint that Alex had good hand-eye coordination because he never used it as a tee,” said Todd Hemenway, his father. “At three years old, he could hit the ball when it popped up.”
Alex began playing basketball at age five or six. “Our first basketball goal was a Gorilla goal for the driveway,” Todd said. “He has always been able to pick up a sport easily and basketball was no exception. Basketball came as naturally to him as baseball.” Former Evansville Outlaws manager Tim Turpin said Alex was an even better baseball player than basketball player growing up. But around eighth grade, Alex began concentrating more on basketball and has played it exclusively in high school.
Last weekend, Hemenway visited Belmont, one of 11 NCAA Division I schools to offer him a basketball scholarship. The University of Evansville was the first to offer, back when he was a freshman. The other nine are: Clemson, Xavier, Butler, Nebraska, Creighton, Valparaiso, IUPUI, Northern Kentucky and Bradley.
Hemenway plans to narrow the list to around six by the end of July, “once I get done with all my AAU stuff. When it kind of slows down, I will have a better view.” Alex, who will be a senior at Castle High School, said his parents have been a rock as he ponders his college choice. Todd works in quality assurance at Toyota while his mother, Chris, is manager of Newburgh National Bank. “I have great parents,” said Alex, who plans to major in sports management. “They’ve helped me through the process. When I don’t feel like talking they’ve let the coaches know what I’m up to. They keep me grounded. They give me a strong base to make my decision.”
Clemson is one of 11 schools to offer Alex a basketball scholarship. Clemson might have a bit of an “in,” because Tigers coach Brad Brownell and his father were on the same soccer travel teams at 10 or 11, playing for then-UE coach Fred Schmalz. They went on to become soccer teammates at Harrison. Todd was the Warriors' senior captain and Brad the junior captain.
“We had many great wins together over the years,” Todd said. “If Alex chooses to play for Clemson, I’m sure it would be great experience.” Todd was a defender for the University of Southern Indiana soccer team. Brownell played basketball for DePauw before beginning his coaching career.
Indiana University has been recruiting Alex, but has not made a formal offer. “They’re still recruiting me very hard,” he said.
Hemenway, a 6-foot-4 guard, was asked if UE was a little more in the running since Walter McCarty became head coach. “I have never really taken them out of the picture, honestly,” said Hemenway, who averaged 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists last winter for the Knights (16-8). “I like Walter and I like (former UE coach) Marty (Simmons). Marty had a great run. He did everything he could. I look forward to meeting Walter, seeing what he does and what the UE program turns into.”
Hemenway has leaned on former Castle teammate and current Iowa sophomore-to-be Jack Nunge for advice. “I ask him all the time what it was like in his first year and what are the differences,” Hemenway said. “It’s a big adjustment in diet and work ethic. Getting adjusted to the pace of college basketball is the toughest part. He made a great all-around adjustment. He had a good freshman year.” Nunge has tried to challenge and push Hemenway to be the best that he could be in order to take his game to the next level.
Mark Adams, Hemenway’s Indiana Elite AAU coach, said he can play point guard or shooting guard with equal dexterity. “He can shoot and score at a high-major level and may be the best shooter in the 2019 class in Indiana,” Adams said.
Hemenway admitted he felt slighted when he was named a member of the Indiana South Junior All-Star team — not a core player — for the recent Indiana-Kentucky series. While he would have liked to have squared off with Bosse outgoing senior Mekhi Lairy one last time before he heads for Miami (Ohio), it was not meant to be. Instead, the Indiana South Juniors played one game with the core group against the Kentucky Juniors at Louisville Trinity High School. “I was kind of looking forward (to playing against Lairy again), but it didn’t work out,” Hemenway said. “He played really well (against the Kentucky seniors). They lost on the Kentucky side, but made up for it on the Indiana side.”
Alex thrived against the Kentucky Juniors, despite a broken nose. He was playing with Indiana Elite in its second game against the Arkansas Hawks of the Adidas Gauntlet in Atlanta on April 28 when he had a violent collision with an opposing player. “He had surgery to repair it the following Wednesday and was released to play on Memorial Day,” Todd said. Alex played in the Indiana Junior All-Star Game the following Saturday. He went 6-for-9 from 3 and had 22 points in 23 minutes.
Broken nose – what broken nose? “I felt I played really well,” Hemenway said. “Being able to represent the state was great, either way. Whether I was a core all-star or a South all-star, I was blessed that I could wear ‘Indiana’ across my chest.”
Hemenway may never be more efficient in his career than in his 35-point eruption in the Knights’ Class 4A sectional victory over host North back in 2016 when he was a freshman. He was 5-for-6 from 2-point range, 5-for-5 from 3-point range and 10-for-11 from the line in Castle’s 92-68 victory. “That’s insane,” Knights coach Brian Gibson said after the game.
Hemenway wasn’t surprised by his performance. “Honestly, I believed ever since I was six-to-eight years old … It’s been my dream to play at the highest level of basketball," he said. "I know you’ve got to take small steps. Of course, that was a big step in my high-school career. That was a jump start, getting my name out there. That night was special.”
Hemenway continued to elevate his game, scoring a single-game school-record 53 points in Castle’s 101-73 romp over Dayton (Ohio) Thurgood Marshall last December in the Bosse Winter Classic. He broke the former mark of 52, set by Luke Sprague in December 2007. “Yeah, that was one of those days where everything clicked,” Hemenway said. “The gym was kind of dead because it was the last game at 8 (p.m.) and not as packed as much as you want. You want to be on all cylinders and everything was clicking that night.”
Hemenway, who ranks fifth on Castle’s career scoring list with 1,052 points, has an excellent chance of becoming the school’s all-time leader. Dedrick Finn currently holds the record with 1,438 points before graduating in 2002.
“First of all, Alex is a very talented individual,” Gibson said. “For more people, that would be enough. But what makes him stand out is he is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. He’s supremely talented, but also one of our hardest workers. We’ve gotten pretty amazing things from Alex so far.” If he stays healthy, Hemenway should break the record. But Gibson said it’s probably the farthest thing from his mind.
Right now, it's on the summer circuit with a big month of July looming. AAU ball undoubtedly makes players better, jump starts player development, and helps prepare them for traveling in college. “Like everything, there are pros and cons (to AAU ball),” Hemenway said. “I like it a lot, playing against the best, on either coast.” On the other hand, at times the games are “raggedy-tag street ball, but it prepares you for college,” Hemenway said. In July, Alex will play AAU ball everywhere from New York City to Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Despite all the traveling, Todd said the rigid competition keeps his son grounded. Sometimes, he runs against someone better than him and gets his hat handed to him.
BROKEN ARM, BROKEN HEART
Even though he has never played high school baseball, Hemenway was talented enough to start at shortstop for Newburgh’s American Legion team the summer following his freshman year. If everything works out, he hopes to finally play for Castle’s baseball team next spring because he will have already made his college choice. “AAU is hectic in this day and age and I had to make a decision to give me a better shot in basketball,” Hemenway said.
But oh, what a baseball player he was and maybe still is. In the summer of 2015, before his freshman year at Castle, he pitched a dominant semifinal game for the Evansville East All-Stars in a Jasper Tournament and coach Tracy Archuleta (yes, that Tracy Archuleta), put him at first base in the championship game against a team from southern Illinois to rest his arm.
Alex hit a couple of home runs before disaster struck. “On a routine play with the ball thrown to first to get the out, the batter ran into Alex and broke a bone in his left forearm,” his father said. “They were ahead 8-2 before the injury." The game was delayed for a half hour or more while they called an ambulance to take him to Jasper Memorial Hospital.
"Unfortunately, when the game resumed, East lost," Todd said. "It had been traumatic to watch a teammate break his arm. The break wasn’t a compound fracture, but his forearm had an unnatural curve to it. I can’t imagine having to watch all that and then put it behind you to finish the game.” Hemenway, who said it was a clean break, was in a full arm cast for six weeks.
He came within a game of making it to state in high school basketball. As a sophomore, he buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to draw Castle within two of Indianapolis Ben Davis late in the Class 4A Seymour Semistate. Nunge tipped in his own miss to tie the game, but Ben Davis’ Joshua Brewer hit a 3-pointer before the buzzer to give the eventual state champion Giants a 74-71 victory.
Hemenway will never forget it. “That game was probably one of the top games ever in my life,” Hemenway said. “It’s always kind of there, picking at me a little bit. I use that as motivation, to get the team there this year. I use that as a little bit of motivation. Hopefully I will get past that this year.”
But his dad still holds the upper hand in one regard. Todd was named to the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame last fall, for his work with the Evansville Outlaws youth programs. “It was an honor and a tremendous surprise,” Todd said.
Despite all of his accomplishments, Alex still has something to live up to.