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Hamilton Heights Hawks soaring, one senior on his way to University of Florida

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Hamilton Heights Christian Academy senior Sam Ruzhentsev will next play for the University of Florida. He is one of several international players at this small independent school. PHOTO: WTVC SPORTS

Hamilton Heights Christian Academy is loaded with international players. The Hawks have their dreams set on college and beyond. Players from Nigeria, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Serbia dot the roster for the team.

Hamilton Heights is a small religious school off Hickory Valley Road. Head coach Zach Ferrell elaborated, "Because we're an independent school, we can draw kids from all over the world. There's not restrictions on if kids are allowed to play or not." Ferrell explained how this tiny school has produced so much basketball talent, on the boys and girls side. "It really started over a decade ago. The school met the need of one girl that needed to finish out her high school here in the states and wanted to. And it just kind of grew from that. We were able to get a little bit more talented and better players as we went."

One of the highest rated current prospects is Sam Ruzhentsev. He came here three years ago from Moscow. Ruzhentsev noticed a difference in culture in this neck of the woods. "I mean I guess it's a Southern thing, but like all the people in the streets, they're just like friendly with you all the time and we don't have that back home," the senior said.

Coach Ferrell said many of Ruzhentsev's peers signed pro contracts, but his mother wanted her son to get an education. He's a senior with his next stop at the University of Florida. Ferrell explained how the senior's journey has progressed, "He came over three years ago and he's really worked his way and now he's a top 75 player in the country and headed to Florida." Ruzhentsev is very excited about his future. "I love it. I can't wait to get there. When I visited, it just changed my mind when I visited."

This particular Hawks wings may reach even higher. Hamilton Heights has two alumni already in the NBA - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his cousin Nickeil Alexander Walker. Ruzhentsev could be another. Ferrell said, "No doubt. Sam has the physical tools, the mental tools and the work ethic all to be able to play at that level."

The international players live with host families, which come from the surrounding community. Ruzhentsev and two other players live with the coach. Ferrell noted, "It's awesome. It's incredible for my family. I got a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter and that's their older brother." The senior from Moscow also enjoys it. "It's been awesome. His family always took care of me and other guys. Yeah, it's been great. I'm very thankful."

This display of international talent will be on display Friday night at Chattanooga Christian.

The game tips at 7:30 and will be broadcast on the CW Chattanooga.

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