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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Hassell makes his point

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Willie Hassell, Portageville
PORTAGEVILLE - Over the years, Southeast Missouri has produced countless outstanding point guards.

Bernie's Anthony Beane, Sikeston's Allen Hatchett, New Madrid County Central's Dereke Tipler, Bell City's Dominitrix Johnson and countless standouts from Charleston just barely scratch the surface.

But ask Portageville coach Jim Bidewell who the best is, and he'll take his own Willie Hassell over any of them.

Hassell certainly made his case as one of the great point guards in the area this past season as he led the Bulldogs to their first district championship since 2000 with a 22-6 record.

Hassell was simply the most unstoppable player in the area which made him our choice for the Standard Democrat Boys Player of the Year.

"In my opinion, which is biased, he is the best point guard that's come out of this area in a long time," said Bidewell. "He can score as well as handle the basketball and pass. He can defend. He has it all. My opinion is biased, but he's at least one of the best."

Hassell averaged 20 points per game with five steals, five assists and four rebounds on average. He made 75 percent of his free throws and 40 percent from 3-point range.

Even more impressive is that his numbers could be even more inflated if not for his unselfishness and his insistence of getting his teammates involved.

"The thing that really pleased me as a coach is he always felt like he needed his teammates," said Bidewell. "I know there were a lot of times where he felt like he could've taken over a little more and scored more, but he stayed within the system. He stayed within the team tremendously well and I think because of that we went as far as we did.

"But he really does have the ability to carry us. There were times where we just looked to him to take over and he did it. The amazing thing about what he did this year was he was so consistent. He really never had a slump, he just took that role and handled it well."

He was a first team all-stater last year and is an obvious repeat candidate this year.

Hassell, who has already qualified academically, is being pursued by Arkansas State, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee-Martin and Southwest Missouri State.

"There's no doubt he can play at those schools," said Bidewell. "I think if we were in an area that had a little more exposure, maybe in a city somewhere, he would have a lot of different looks. But the big schools around here are the ones that have shown tremendous interest."

There's little on the floor that Hassell can't do.

With a build that looks more like a football tailback, the 5-foot-10 Hassell is quicker, faster and stronger than other guards in the area.

He can shoot the 3, or take players off the dribble. Or he can draw the defense's attention and throw a bullet to a wide open player underneath the basket.

"My quickness and my pull-up jumper are probably my best traits," said Hassell.

"He has strength and quickness and he's able to go left or right and he can shoot off the drive," said Bidewell. "He can create his shot as well as spot-up shooting. I don't really feel he has many weaknesses."

Basketball wasn't always Hassell's first love.

He said football and baseball were his first two sports of choice.

"I played football in middle school and was pretty good at that," said Hassell. "Baseball was probably the sport I was best at, but I gave that up to work on basketball. Coach Bidewell talked me into it. I wasn't going to play in the seventh grade but he thought I could be pretty good. That was the first time I ever played."

Bidewell said he just saw a kid that had natural ability and instincts.

"His speed and quickness was something that's not coachable," said Bidewell. "He handled the ball well as a junior high player and he just had a God-given ability to play. He's used it well and hopefully will get a chance to play ball and use that to further his education."

And the rest is history.

Although many wonder what Hassell would have been like on the gridiron, his success on the hardwood quells any notions that he made the wrong decision.

Hassell was the Bulldogs' leading scorer the last two years and he improved his game in nearly every area.

This year, Hassell helped the Bulldogs break through a district drought with stellar performances in the district tournament.

The Bulldogs' season ended in a sectional loss to eventual state runner-up Charleston.

"It was my last year and we gave it our all -- we just came up short against Charleston," said Hassell. "Overall it was a good year. I wish we could've played Charleston like we played them in the second half the whole game. It probably could've been a different outcome."

Next up for Hassell will be a difficult decision of where to take his skills next year.

And for Bidewell, it may be time to find that next seventh grade phenom.

"He's had a great career and he's done some great things for us and our program," said Bidewell. "We're going to try to fill some shoes that probably won't get filled for a while.

"He's no doubt got to be one of the top players I've coached. It's hard to compare sometimes because the times change and the athletes get better. But he's definitely got to be one of the top players I've had the privilege to coach. He's been a joy to coach. He's a great kid off the floor, he takes care of business in the classroom. He's just a well-rounded young man."