One of them is chasing down the career 1,000-point plateau and the chance to join exclusive company in Paul VI history. Abaigeal Babore, 18, is also one of the state’s most lethal three-point shooters.
The other is one of New Jersey’s leaders in steals and easily one of the best freshmen in the state, too. Hannah Hidalgo, 14, is good enough to profile as one of the state’s best players, period, before her prep career is over.
Combined, Babore and Hidalgo form a prolific 1-2 punch for Paul VI in the backcourt.
Although both were born and raised in Merchantville, this winter is the first time Babore and Hidalgo are playing together on a team. The early results are encouraging: Paul VI won each of its first 10 games to begin the 2019-20 season, and won those games by an average margin of victory of 39.8 points.
Following a recent win over Eastern, the Eagles guards took time to talk about the memorable season they’re putting together.
SJSW: Paul VI last won a South Jersey sectional title in 1989. How confident are you that this team can do it?
Hannah Hidalgo: This team, I feel like we have a lot of talent. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing right now, we can make it all the way. We’re a talented team, we know how to put it together, and we have chemistry that takes a lot of teams years to build.
Abaigeal Babore: I think all of the girls are really buying into what (Coach Lisa) Steele’s preaching to us. Team is important to us. We’re not only working hard in games to share the ball, but if you sat in on a practice you’d see how much we talk to each other not only on the court but we’ll joke around off the court to build that chemistry even more.
SJSW: What is this Paul VI team better at, offense or defense?
Hidalgo: I think we’re equally good at both. Our defense definitely affects our offense. When we play our press and it gets in the opponents’ head, we’re able to score and get quick buckets off of it.
SJSW: That’s what I saw today – pressure defense leading to offense.
Babore: Yeah, if we’re aggressive and we play the lanes right and we get those steals, we’re easily jumping out on a 10-0 run, just in the first few minutes (of a game).
SJSW: How big is the month of February, with Bishop Eustace again, Cherokee, Moorestown Friends, and even Cherry Hill West, which has played well this year. Nice to have tough teams right before the postseason?
Hidalgo: Absolutely. Getting tough teams really builds the team up and we can get stronger, and then for the games down the line we have that experience and it’s a little easier.
Babore: If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I think Cherokee is going to be a great test for us, and even Eustace. We’ll play them in our home gym now, which is big for us. … Coming out strong in February will help us for the postseason.
SJSW: Do you have a basketball role model?
Babore: I really like Joel Embiid.
Hidalgo: I like Kyrie Irving.
SJSW: Do you guys model your game off anybody?
Babore: I like to model after Sue Bird. Especially before Hannah came I had to step into the point guard role and be a distributor, and when my team really needed me stepping up. Sue Bird was that.
SJSW: Who is the best player in South Jersey?
Babore: Kylie Watson. She’s tough. I played with her on the (Philadelphia) Belles. She’ll outwork you on offense and defense. She’s very good.
SJSW: Who is the best backcourt duo in South Jersey?
Hidalgo: Yea, definitely. I would say we are.
SJSW: I like that answer. OK, now pick any player from South Jersey to add to Paul VI’s team.
Babore: I played AAU with Latanya Berry from Sterling and her game has really evolved. She’s disciplined. And her height would be a great addition to our team.
Hidalgo: I think one person I’d like is my cousin, Jada Williams at Gloucester Catholic. She’s big, she can finish around the basket and get rebounds.
SJSW: Who is the best shooter at Paul VI?
Hidalgo: [Points at her teammate] Abaigeal. The best shooter.
Babore: Lisa Steele. [laughs]
SJSW: The best ball handler?
Babore: Hannah is the best ball handler. I mean, you saw her play.
SJSW: Who helped teach you the game?
Hidalgo: My dad (Orlando Hidalgo). Ever since I was young I would work out with older high school boys and get my handle and get it right.
SJSW: Where did you get your shooting touch from?
Babore: My dad (Guido Babore) and Duke Cross, he was my middle school coach and he’d have us on the shooting machine for hours.
SJSW: Toughest player at Paul VI?
Hidalgo: Right here [points to Babore]. Even during practice she just always goes game speed and it builds everyone up. She’s always going inside with the big girls trying to grab boards. Definitely the toughest player at Paul VI.
SJSW: How about smartest player?
Babore: I would say Hannah, actually. Being a freshman and making the reads she makes, she’s wise beyond her years in basketball and it’s great to see, especially for the future of Paul VI.
SJSW: Funniest player?
Babore: [Laughs] Nile Miller, yup. I would also say Janice (Ashong).
SJSW: Best defender?
Babore: I would say right now Nile, she’s been evolving with her defense and it’s been amazing. She’s been taking charges. And even when she’s getting into foul trouble she’s learning.
SJSW: Do you have anyone who inspires you?
Babore: I would say my grandpop (Richard Phillips). He would always come and shoot around with me, he’d make sure I’d make my layups. And he’s a veteran so he preached being tough.
Hidalgo: To be honest, when I get on the court I think of my mom and dad. I want to make sure I do my best so they’ll be happy and that I’m making smart plays, not only getting points but making good passes, too.
SJSW: OK, we’re at the state championships and in pregame introductions each player comes out to their own song. What’s your walkup song?
Babore: People are going to make fun of me! What’s that song with Meek Mill? “Going Bad.” I know all of the words, I’m very proud of myself. IT gets me excited.
Hidalgo: That’s a tough one. Probably Roddy Ricch’s “High Fashion.” It gets everyone hype.