By Braedan Shea
Springfield Central girls basketball program’s drive and passion is clear from the opening tip. The Golden Eagles are vocal on both ends of the floor, hustle as hard as they can every play, and, most important, they have fun doing so. The way they play the game would certainly make James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, smile.
It’s fitting that Springfield Central brought its high-energy game to the birthplace of the sport. On Friday, Springfield Central opened day two with a 60-54 victory over Sacred Heart Academy (CT).
While every player is into the game, one stands above the rest – literally. Julie Bahati, Springfield Central’s superstar starting forward l, has cemented herself as the team’s unquestioned leader. Every possession, whether on offense or defense, Bahati’s voice echoes the loudest. Wherever the ball is, she can be counted on to be in the area. And when a teammate hits the deck, she will be there to lend a hand.
Not only does Bahati present herself as a leader, but the statistics back it up as well. Bahati leads the team in rebounds (6.5 per game) and blocks (1 per game), as well as being third in points (7.6 per game) and assists (1.8 per game).
Bahati’s leadership could not have been more evident during the game. Early in the fourth quarter, she went down with a lower-leg injury, and had to be taken out for the first time all game. After getting her ankle taped, she returned to the front of the Springfield Central bench, cheering on her team louder than anybody else. Just minutes later, when her team needed her most, Bahati made her way back to the scorer’s table, re-entering the game.
With just 30 seconds remaining in the game, and Central Springfield up by six, Bahati closed out hard on a corner 3 by Sacred Heart. Immediately after the close out, she crashed to the basket and soared high to grab the rebound. As she came down, Bahati quickly fired the ball to guard Heaven Morris, who raced down the court and finished anand-one to put the game out of reach for Sacred Heart.
“I felt like we needed a strong finish,” Bahati said. “And I feel like that’s what I gave them, even with a hurt ankle. I can push through that and I feel like that’s what basketball really is. The love of basketball; it just brings that out of somebody.”
Bahati’s heroics not only gave her team a great win, but she was also named the Most Valuable Player of the game, leading with 20 points, despite being injured. The injury is not something that she finds is too big of a deal, however.
“I’m stable right now,” Bahati said. “It just needs a little icing just off the pressure a little and I’d be fine.”
Although she appears confident in her role on the team, Bahati has not always felt this way. She moved to the United States from Kenya when she was 9 years old, which was when she first picked up the game of basketball. She first approached it with timidness – hiding in the corner, afraid to touch the ball.
The adjustment to life in America went beyond basketball. Making friends was never a struggle, Bahati said, but, ironically, communication was. Bahati was fluent in English before the move, but the speed at which Americans talk made things difficult.
But with time, life got easier for Bahati as she became more used to daily life in a new country. Basketball also was becoming much easier. With her towering 6-foot-3 frame, Bahati stands above most. Combined with a relentless work ethic, Bahati has become one of the best players in Western Massachusetts.
During the 2021-22 campaign, Bahati led the Golden Eagles past top-seeded Andover to their first Division I state championship victory since 2017. After losing their second game of the season, Springfield Central won its next 20 games on the back of an impressive season from Bahati, whose efforts earned her an All-Western Mass. first-team nomination.
Along with the victory, Bahati and her teammates were awarded a key to the city from Springfield mayor Domenic Sarno, and he also proclaimed March 24 as Central High School Girls Basketball Day.
Coming into this season, Bahati’s game has drawn more than just attention at the high school level, but also collegiate. She had amassed over 15 total Division I offers to play collegiate basketball, before finally deciding to play at St. John’s University. Bahati made her announcement during a school pep rally back in September.
Even with such an impressive and colorful career already, Bahati makes sure the focus is on her team.
“It’s my senior year, and I want to play hard,” she said. “Winning (the championship) last season was great, but I want to come this year stronger and show them again who I am, and give it all my best.”
Photo: Nick Storlazzi/The Student