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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith goes from Cashmere guard to cashing in as one of college basketball’s brightest stars

UPDATED: Sun., March 20, 2022

Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith (10) celebrates after scoring and getting fouled during a NCAA Tournament game against Albany in Louisville, Ky., on Friday.  (Associated Press)
Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith (10) celebrates after scoring and getting fouled during a NCAA Tournament game against Albany in Louisville, Ky., on Friday. (Associated Press)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It’s not easy being an icon at the age of 20, but Hailey Van Lith is handling the pressure just fine.

A few years ago, Van Lith was young basketball player in tiny Cashmere, Washington, though promising enough to attract the attention of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

She’s also been romantically linked to former Gonzaga star Jalen Suggs, now with the Orlando Magic of the NBA.

You might call that fame by association, but now it’s the other way around.

Van Lith, a sophomore guard for the Louisville Cardinals, is one of the hottest stars of the NIL age. Her social-media following has attracted enough sponsors that may already be a millionaire, though no one knows for sure and Van Lith isn’t saying.

The status of her relationship with Suggs also is a bit cloudy and no doubt a source of concern for her 700,000 Instagram followers.

Van Lith also has more than 22,000 fans on Twitter and another 56,500 on TikTok. That’s a huge market for advertisers, and she has cashed in.

In her most recent sponsored post by IcyHot and the Shaq Foundation, Van Lith garnered 135,000 views on Instagram, 16,800 on Tik Tok and 4,600 on Twitter, plus the likes and reshares.

Van Lith’s success is no surprise. She’s a top-tier college basketball player at the University of Louisville, and she’s been an active supporter of female athletes.

Van Lith has spoken out on several occasions about the unequal treatment of women athletes, especially during last year’s NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve heard there’s supposed to be a lot of changes this year,” Van Lith said this week. “And I really hope they happen, because we deserve it.”

Van Lith was a major beneficiary when the governor of Kentucky signed an executive order allowing student-athletes to benefit from NIL. However, she also struck a chord with other women – athletes or not – with this Instagram post:

“Although I am disappointed and saddened that the athletes before us, especially WOMEN athletes, were not awarded this right, this is our chance to break boundaries and pave the way for the future generation of female athletes next up. Time to elevate!”

Van Lith has done that all her life.

Raised on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, she showed enough promise as a softball player to attract college recruiters by the time she hit eighth grade.

However, basketball was her passion, and she’d attracted big-time attention by her sophomore year at Cashmere.

She also made a friend in Bryant.

In the summer of 2019, while Van Lith waited in a Thailand airport after a game with the Team USA Under-19 team, she got a surprise message.

“The text was from one of Kobe’s main guys – I called him ‘T,’ and he just basically said that Kobe knew about me, loved my game and really wanted to get me to L.A. to work with him and talk about basketball,” Hailey told the Los Angeles Times.

“I couldn’t believe it, that he actually knew who I was and thought I was a good player. When I later asked him, ‘Why me?’ he basically said the way I play, my work ethic and mentality on the court, reminded him of himself, and it compelled him to reach out to me.”

The following January, Bryant and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.

A few days later, Van Lith shared some of that advice in a tribute to Bryant and his daughter before a game at Cashmere.

“Thank you for teaching me that it is OK to be unapologetically great,” she said hugging her teammates and fighting back tears as it was read to the crowd.

By then, Van Lith was the top-ranked guard in the nation. Early in her senior year, she signed with Louisville.

“We got to see a lot of her,” said Gonzaga Coach Lisa Fortier, whose team faced Louisville in a second-round NCAA Tournament game on Sunday night. “We tried hard. We tried to get her to Gonzaga.”

“Her work ethic is among the best I’ve ever seen. And just her intensity out there and her desire to do the job,” Fortier said.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz marvels at Van Lith’s ability to stay grounded despite her fame at a young age.

“It’s really refreshing to see how she’s handled all of it,” Walz said. “You know, she never really talks about it, you know. … You look at her Instagram and I think she has 700-something thousand followers and she’s posted 41 times.”

“So it’s not like she’s out here posting every five minutes,” Walz added. “And she’s just a hard worker.”

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