Late start doesn't stop Hernandez from reaching new heights

  • Justina Hernandez, middle, playing for Bartlett in 2018, will play collegiately at UW-Milwaukee.

    Justina Hernandez, middle, playing for Bartlett in 2018, will play collegiately at UW-Milwaukee. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 11/25/2020 1:51 PM

Growing up, Justina Hernandez found herself in cheer and gymnastics, enjoying every minute of it.

She got to sixth grade, and her parents told her she was going to try basketball.


"My parents made me do basketball because I started getting taller," Hernandez said. "I didn't want to get into it but they forced me to play."

Turns out Justin and Aeanna Hernandez gave their daughter good advice.

Hernandez put all the agility and athleticism from gymnastics to good use on the basketball court. She proved a quick study, starting at Bartlett as a freshman.

She played two years with the Hawks, last year at Nazareth and is set to play her senior season at Glenbard North when and if Illinois begins the high school basketball season.

And next year Hernandez will head to UW-Milwaukee with a Division I scholarship in a sport she didn't want to try.

"I started a little later than everybody else," laughed Hernandez. "I love it now."

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Hernandez picked UW-Milwaukee over Southern Illinois. She first drew interest from Panthers coaches when Nazareth attended a UW-Milwaukee team camp.

Their coaches offered Hernandez a scholarship after watching her play at the camp.

"I really liked it and enjoyed being there and getting to meet some of the players and coaching staff," Hernandez said. "I'm excited to be in Milwaukee. I had a lot of fun down there."

The 5-foot-10 Hernandez, whose younger siblings Justin Jr. and Joslyn both play basketball, projects as a combo guard in college. Her cousin Jeremiah Hernandez starred in high school at St. Viator and now plays at Kent State.

Justina said the main skill she's working on before she gets to campus is her shooting. She expects her quickness and defense to translate well to the college game.


"I've been working on being more consistent from 3, working on that a lot especially with all the time off," Hernandez said. "Being able to drive and kick and finish at the rim are my strengths and also being able to play defense."

Hernandez said she will major in either something business or sports related, mentioning sports broadcasting as an interest.

Her high school basketball journey has been interesting, helping Bartlett reach a sectional championship game as a sophomore before transferring to Nazareth.

"I feel it was a better basketball experience because the Naz competition was way better," Hernandez said. "We got to play against some really good teams. I had a lot of fun at Naz. I learned a lot. I'm so thankful for all the relations. I felt like they took high school girls basketball a lot more serious than most schools do."

Hernandez said she would have returned to Nazareth this year. But since school was online, "There was no point in me going to a private school with the uncertainties of a basketball season."

Now she's just hoping to get one last high school season, whenever it might be.

"I just want to play," Hernandez said. "It's been awhile since I've played."

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