This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.03/30/2022 12:00 AM
When he was in 8th grade, Hassan Ali was encouraged by a few of his friends to play basketball at Joseph Melillo Middle School. Throughout the past five years, Hassan has shown great growth both on and off the court on his way to becoming a key varsity contributor for the East Haven boys’ basketball team as a senior.
While had never played the sport, Hassan was intrigued by the idea of joining his friends on the basketball court and decided to give it a try to see if he liked it. It wasn’t any easy transition for Hassan, but that first season sparked his interest, and he decided to take basketball more seriously going forward.
“My 8th-grade year, I was terrible. I didn’t touch the varsity court once,” says Hassan. “When freshman year started, that’s when I realized I was actually pretty decent. I worked all summer to get better. All my friends saw something in me. It really pushed me.”
Hassan joined the Yellowjackets in his first year at the high school and mostly competed for the freshman team. Hassan found that high school hoops was highly competitive and struggled to keep up as a freshman, but that didn’t diminish his desire to improve.
Both during and after the season, Hassan and his friends went to the gym every day, looking to get stronger. The more they worked, the more Hassan start to see his skillset develop.
“It was way more competitive than I thought it would be. My first year, I really struggled,” Hassan says. “I went to the gym every day with my friends. We just got better.”
As moving up to JV as a sophomore and remaining there as a junior, Hassan got his opportunity to compete on the varsity level in his senior season. Hassan started half of the Yellowjackets’ games during the 2022 campaign, helping his team notch 11 victories while qualifying for both the SCC Tournament and the Division III State Tournament.
Hassan says that East Haven’s road game versus Guilford on Jan. 22 is one that will always stand out for him. The Yellowjackets handed the Grizzlies their first loss of with the year by earning a 69-60 victory, and Hassan had 6 blocks in the contest.
As a center, Hassan knew that he would often be going up against some big athletes in the paint. However, with the help of his teammates and coaches, Hassan learned how to play physical and battle on the defensive end of the floor.
“Everyone was bigger and stronger than they were in JV. It was tough,” says Hassan. “It’s very physical. You have to be big and strong. But the coaches and players, they really helped me through it.”
Frank Lyon was in his first season as head coach of the East Haven boys’ basketball team this year. While watching Hassan, Coach Lyon saw the senior work hard in practice every day as the center strived to help both himself and his teammates get better.
“Hassan was one of the toughest and hardest workers I’ve ever coached,” Lyon says. “He brought it every day and elevated the energy and competitiveness of others around him. He was a great teammate and a true competitor.”
After getting him to try the sport in the first place, Hassan’s teammates played a crucial role in helping him realize his potential as a basketball player. As they looked to improve through practice, Hassan found that the bonds they created away from the court were even stronger than their connection as teammates.
“The team was very loyal. There were so many family bonds,” says Hassan. “They weren’t just players on my team. They’re family to me.”
In the span of a few years, Hassan went from someone who had never played basketball to a varsity starter with East Haven boys’ hoops. Hassan enjoyed being a part of the program and always felt honored to represent the Easties on the hardwood.
“It means a lot. Working out with guys who really love the sport teaches you a lot,” Hassan says. “It’s great to wear Yellowjackets across your chest.”