High School Sports

Trained by ex-UNC and NBA guard, is prep star poised to be one of county’s best ever?

In the back of a small church, just past the Mecklenburg County line off Providence Road, a 15-year-old girls’ basketball prodigy is working with a former NBA point guard.

Jeff McInnis, 43, who played for coach Dean Smith at North Carolina in the 1990s and with superstar LeBron James for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is directing Davidson Day sophomore Mallorie Haines through a rigorous series of dribbling and shooting drills. Haines and her mother, Tanya Hall, have driven more than an hour from their home to be here. And it’s something they do often.

“Her success,” Hall said, “doesn’t come without the hard work. She’s a shooter and she feels a responsibility for her role. Where other people might shoot 200 times a day in practice, she needs to shoot 600 or 700 times per day.”

All that work has turned Haines into a bona-fide national recruit. She received her first offer from Appalachian State last week and has drawn interest from Davidson, High Point, Kentucky, Princeton and South Carolina.

Haines began her career at Catawba’s Bandys High School last November. In her second game there, a 66-65 win over Claremont’s Bunker Hill High, Haines scored 48 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and she had nine steals. That was the most points ever scored in a game by a Bandys’ girl and broke a 31-year-old school record.

Haines played 12 games at Bandys, averaging nearly 30 points per night. Before she left, she was ranked No. 11 nationally in scoring and No. 2 among freshmen.

Haines transferred to Davidson Day over the Christmas break, in part to face better competition. She averaged 17 points and five rebounds for a N.C. 2A private school quarterfinalist.

And In January, just a few days after she took an unofficial visit to national power South Carolina, Haines led Davidson Day to a 90-67 win over Langtree Charter. She set a career high with 51 points, seven rebounds and six steals. Haines made nine 3-point shots and was 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. Her performance was the most points ever by a Mecklenburg County freshman, male or female. It’s the third-best single-game girls’ scoring performance in county history.

Former UNC point guard Jeff McInnis has been working with Davidson Day sophomore star Mallorie Haines since she moved to the Charlotte-area with her family two years ago. Langston Wertz Jr. lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

McInnis says Haines is only getting started.

“I think she’ll definitely be a superstar in college because she shoots the ball so well,” McInnis said. “I think today’s game is going to shooting and it’s right up her alley. Once she gets better off the dribble, she’ll be unstoppable.”

Haines’ mother played college basketball at Santa Clara, a Division I school in the shadow of the headquarters of Apple and Google in northern California, where former NBA stars Steve Nash and Kurt Rambis played. And Haines and her husband, NASCAR crew chief Trip Bruce, were living in northern California when Mallorie began playing on a team that included the daughter of former NBA player and Salisbury High star Bobby Jackson. Jackson, who had retired in 2009 as a Sacramento King and was later a Kings assistant coach, became close to Haines and her family. He also became her trainer.

So when Bruce was coming back to North Carolina to become crew chief for Stewart Friesen on the NASCAR Camping World Truck series, Jackson recommended that Haines work with McInnis, one of his good friends in North Carolina.

Haines was a 13-year-old rising eighth-grader when she got here. Not long after that, she was playing on McInnis’ Team Charlotte 17-and-under travel team with girls who were going to be high school seniors.

“I saw her a little bit on film before she got here, but I’m not big on film,” McInnis said. “But the first time I saw her, I was just amazed at how she shot the ball. She made 94-of-100 the first time she shot for me. I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Haines has a picture-perfect jump shot, an A average in school and dreams of becoming a marine veterinarian. She just doesn’t say much.

“I try to stay humble,” she said, “and I don’t think about points in game. I try to be a team player. I just want to go as far as I can and I’ve been fortunate to be in contact with so many (college) coaches at a young age.”

Every day, Haines said she will make at least 400 shots, whether it’s in the gym or outside at her house. It takes her about 90 minutes, she said.

Davidson Day coach Jeff LaFave said Haines’ work ethic separates her for many players her age, but it’s not the only thing.

“Here’s a girl who was on the ESPN (college) watch list as a freshman and she’s gotten a lot of acclaim early,” LaFave said. “But the thing about Mallorie is the way she projects in the hallways: very classy, very humble. She understands she’s blessed to have this ability and you see her around younger kids and she loves it.

“She’s not one of these who gets what she wants and doesn’t give back. She’s interested in the program and in developing our future generations, too.”

LaFave said it’s crazy to think he’ll have Haines for three more years.

“Mallorie’s now on the scouting report,” he said. “You’re not just going to be able to catch it and shoot it. You will have people play physical with you. She’s going to have to work for her shots. She’s getting all of this attention, but she gets it. That’s why I think she’ll be one of the best players ever to play in a Mecklenburg County School. She really can be that good.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr