Alyssa Latham’s trip to Colorado Springs a few months ago had an unexpected twist.
Latham, a 6-1 forward from Homewood-Flossmoor, was one of 30 players taking part in USA Basketball’s 18-under women’s national-team tryouts.
She didn’t make the final cut but was seen for the first time by Syracuse coach Felicia Legette-Jack.
Legette-Jack, who had just taken over at her alma mater a couple of months earlier, was on the recruiting trail and liked what she saw of Latham. The feeling was mutual.
”I really loved the coaching staff,” Latham said. ”They go by character, academics and basketball. I love coach Jack. She’s really cool, very genuine.”
In early August, a couple of months after the trials, Latham committed to Syracuse. Besides the chance to play in a top Power Five conference in the ACC, there was a considerable academic draw, as well. Latham intends to pursue a career as an architect, and Syracuse has one of the oldest and most well-regarded architecture schools in the nation.
Landing at a Power Five program is the latest milestone in a career that began years ago.
”I started playing basketball in third or fourth grade,” Latham said. ”My dad had me in the driveway a couple of years doing bear crawls and all that stuff.”
She’s the latest in a long line of players on both sides of her family. One of them, maternal grandmother Vivian Taylor, played for Farragut, Malcolm X and Lincoln College and was an All-American, Latham said.
Besides the family history on the court, Latham can boast a blue-collar approach. H-F coach Tony Smith can attest to that.
”Oh, man, she’s just the ultimate team player,” Smith said. ”She’s going to do whatever it takes to win. . . .
”Her freshman year, she came in to defend and rebound. She ended up being one of the best defensive players in the state for her year [in school]. Her sophomore year, we asked her to score some.”
The offensive side of Latham’s game has continued to develop.
”I’ve really been working on my shot, my three-pointer, my midrange game,” she said.
Effort is something that comes naturally for Latham, Smith said.
Smith, who won four state titles at Bolingbrook between 2006 and 2011, has coached some of the best players in the state in the last 20 years. He said Latham fits right into that category.
”She’s right up there with the best of them,” Smith said. ”She’s a kid who works. . . . She’s a kid who wants it.
”You could tell her to go shoot 100 free throws, and you don’t have to watch over her. Like [former Bolingbrook star] Morgan Tuck, like the rest of the great ones.”
Latham and Smith hope this can be a special season for the Vikings, who went 19-9 and reached the sectional finals last season.
”Yeah, I’m feeling pretty confident for this year,” Latham said. ”We have four girls returning [and] a couple of freshmen coming up who are pretty good.”
And one of the best players in the country to lead the way.