They call her ‘Cheese,’ Bartlett junior Hare commits to Saint Louis

Kenzie Hare – photo by Brandon Clay

Getting a hefty chunk of cheddar is inevitable when taking the hardwood against Bartlett junior and recent Saint. Louis women’s basketball commit Kenzie Hare.

The longtime M14 Hoops (Team M-X14) super-scorer has been cheesin’ on the court for the Aurora-based travel squad since her elementary days, and her nickname of “Cheese” can be traced back to the organization.

“We had two Mackenzies on our team, and we both go by Kenz or Kenzie,” Hare said, referring to her and teammate Kenzie Senffner, who wrote about in November. “So coach Ryan (Haun) was like, ‘Alright, someone’s got to go by something else.’ So one of our teammates, Kendall Moriarty, she’s (signed) … to Nebraska, she was like, ‘Why don’t we do Mac ‘N Cheese?’ So now we’re Mac ‘N Cheese. Now me and Mac, we love Mac ‘N Cheese, so we get it at every restaurant we go to as a team.”

Haun, who has coached Hare in some capacity since she was in fourth grade, has another reason for Hare’s “Cheese,” tag.

“(She) can find a reason to smile in the middle of a game for no reason,” Haun said.

Hare has been a focal point of Bartlett’s last two Upstate-winning seasons (24-9 last season, 29-5 the season before) with Lexie Sinclair, a fellow Division I commit who will play point guard at St. Bonaventure.

Kenzie Hare, whose sister Kayla is a sophomore hooper at Missouri-St. Louis, is excited to live in the city near her sister and visit a campus that has become familiar to her.

“Hopefully we’ll both be playing and it’s going to be nice to be around her,” Kenzie Hare said. “She hasn’t been home in a while because of everything. Being able to hang out with her and her team, I know a lot of her teammates, I mean that’d be super cool.”

That previous experience in the city — plus a trio of visits to SLU’s campus for a camp, a Billiken Madness scrimmage and a game — has Hare excited for what’s to come well down the line.

St. Louis’ current roster features a pack of Illinois talent, including four players from Illinois on the roster.

“The way they recruited me made me feel comfortable,” Hare said. “I have a great relationship with the staff. I talk to the head coach, coach (Lisa) Stone, every Sunday at 7 (p.m.). That’s been going on for over a year-and-a-half now. Definitely felt comfortable making that decision early.”

Still, it’s been quite the few years for Hare leading to the commitment.

After hitting 102 three-pointers as a Hawks freshman under late coach Brad Hunt, Hare and Haun spent time in the gym improving her all-around game.

In their preparation, Haun not only walked through specific characteristics of Hare’s game, but he also spent time breaking down film with her of Steph Curry and Luca Doncic to come up with ways to move without the ball and diversify her skillset.

“‘OK, here’s how they play off of their shot,'” Haun said. “‘Everyone know you’re a shooter from your freshman year scout. Here’s how we can set up playing off of your shot.’ And everything was reads-based on, ‘OK, they’re crowding me, they’re double-teaming me. Where’s the next opening? What’s the next move?’

It’s a lot of film study and a lot of time in the gym talking through the next read, the next (steps),” Haun continued. “And she’s done a heck of a job picking it up.”

Kenzie Hare – photo by Brandon Clay

As much as Hare’s own skills have improved, she says the film helped her see a more complete version of the floor and space around her.

“We’ve done multiple film sessions where we just go back into a game,” Hare said. It could be a bad game, it could be a good game and we nitpick the little things. Something that if you were playing, you might not see it or even know you did it. Going back, looking at footwork, you see the court a lot better on film, and you see you drove this way where if you drove the other way there was going to be a person in the corner… just the little things have really helped. It’s helped my court vision a lot because now I see the game differently. Definitely getting my teammates open, that’s been a big thing.”

As a sophomore, Hare raced past the 1,000 points mark (she now has 1,296), scored 43 in a win over Fenton and hit eight three-pointers in a victory against West Chicago. She was named the Upstate 8 player of the year as well as a third-team all-state performer.

“That kid is one of the top five competitors that I’ve ever coached,” Haun said. “What makes her special though is balance. She can also step off the court, be extremely mad and angry, and then take a step back, smile and shake it off.”

The Hawks had their season come to an end at the hands of now-DePaul freshman Darrione Rogers’ Lake Park team 67-59 in a Class 4A regional final.

Though Bartlett led that game at half, Rogers scored 26 to ultimately overcome Bartlett. Haun was hesitant to describe Hare’s game as similar to Rogers’ play, but he did say their ability to take over games scoring-wise was similar.

They both cut through opponents like Swiss.

“Darrione and Kenzie show they can go get baskets off the dribble, off the catch,” Haun said. “They both give you that Steph Curry-level breathlessness where if a shot goes up it’s like, ‘Oh no, not again.’”

Given what the Bartlett program has been through the last few years, between Hunt’s passing, former coach Joe Eirich’s in-season resignation and the anointing of a new coach, Kristi Ragan — all before a season unlike any other during the coronavirus pandemic — Hare is just hoping for a chance to exceed the success of years past while getting back with teammates.

“She was head coach for our last two games,” Hare said of Ragan. “She did a great job. She’s a really good job. I’m super excited to hopefully get two seasons with her and not one.”

While Hare looks forward to future matchups in Atlantic 10 Conference games against Sinclair, she is hopeful about what an unconventional season could bring come January or later.

“(We want to be) conference champs again, and we’re looking to make a big run in the playoffs,” Hare said.

“[I’m] thankful for the coaches who recruited me, my teammates, all the coaches who worked with me before,” Hare added. “Just thankful for all of them.”

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