More than a sophomore: Nakeriona Heard wins Athlete of the Week

Published 1:38 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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Lanett’s girls basketball team is preparing for another deep playoff run, but the run largely hinges on sophomore point guard Nakeriona Heard. 

Heard is just a sophomore, but she is far from inexperienced on the hardwood. Heard has been around Lanett’s program since she was in the seventh grade, and she has either started or played a pivotal role for the Panthers the past three seasons. 

“It’s a big help,” said Lanett coach Charlie Williams. “Sometimes people forget she’s just a tenth grader. She’s been around so long. Everybody thinks she’s a senior. The things she’s seen the last three or four years on a basketball court, with the exception of maybe a few other girls in the state, is probably the most [experienced].” 

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When Heard became a part of the program as a seventh grader, she sat and watched some of the more experienced players shine in big moments.
Starting her eighth-grade season, Williams quickly learned that it would be nearly impossible to keep Heard off the floor. 

“I had a veteran group in front of her, and she still started some games,” Williams said. “She’s always around. She might not start the game but once she comes in, she’s not coming out because she’s always making an impact.” 

Heard has broken out this season, averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals per game. However, Heard has saved her best for the big moments. Heard led the way in the 2A sub-regionals against Fyffe with 21 points and 18 rebounds. 

“I don’t know how my body adjusts to the games, but when it’s playoff time I just bring it way harder than in the regular season,” Heard said. “In the playoffs, it’s a feeling. It just feels different.” 

The Lady Panthers are 21-4 on the season, and Heard has been a major part of the team’s success. Heard has been one of Lanett’s best scorers and defenders, but her biggest impact has come with her leadership. 

Heard has become the vocal leader of the Panthers. Heard can be seen calling out defensive assignments from the point guard position, and at times she huddles the team on the floor like a head coach. 

“Over the years, I’ve just basically had to be Coach Charlie on the floor,” Heard said. “That’s what I do. I just be him on the floor and it just works.” 

Averaging five steals per game, Heard has quickly become one of the best defensive guards in the county and the state. Heard plays with an unrivaled intensity on the floor, and the team feeds off of her energy on defense. 

“When the season started, I had an ankle injury,” Heard said. “When I came back from it, our main thing is defense, so I tried to bring it so that they could come behind me and have the same intensity.” 

Heard is an intense player, but few rival the intensity that Williams brings to every huddle and every practice. 

Some players have a hard time adjusting to tough coaching, but over the years Heard has grown accustomed to the way Williams runs the Panthers. 

“I came to him my seventh-grade year, so my eighth-grade year I was already used to it,” Heard said. “My first year, I wasn’t used to it. I had to adjust to it, and after that it was easy.” 

With the hard coaching came a lot of improvement for Heard, but the main improvement was in her mindset. Heard made an attitude adjustment quickly in Williams’ system as she learned that her emotions had a great impact on the rest of the team. 

“With me being a point guard and having the ball the most, my attitude can’t be messed up because everybody else’s attitude feeds off of mine,” Heard said. 

Heard’s relationship with Williams has grown far beyond just a player-coach relationship. Williams took an interest in Heard before she even became a part of the team, and Heard has worked to impress Williams ever since. 

“I remember when I first started playing basketball, I was in sixth grade, and he came to one of my recreation games,” Heard said. “He was already watching me. I was like ‘There goes the head coach from Lanett High School.’ I was just trying to impress him. When I came to the seventh grade, he just got me.” 

There are several influential professional and college point guards who Heard could have modeled her game after, but instead, Heard has looked up to another athlete who dominated the hardwood as a Panther. 

Lanett alum Kintavious Dozier is currently dominating as a point guard at Grambling State. Dozier has served as an inspiration for Heard. 

Heard sees several similarities between her and Dozier’s game. The two are constantly looking to facilitate and score, and both Dozier and Heard have the offense run through them. 

“He’s a very hard worker,” Heard said. “I’ve worked out with him multiple times, and he doesn’t play. He’s always working. [Even when] he’s sitting down, he’s working.”

Right now, Heard is completely focused on being a part of the first championship team for the Lady Panthers. In the future, Heard hopes to accomplish some things that few girls around the county and state have done. 

“This year, I’m just going to do my best to win and make history,” Heard said. “This is kind of crazy, but by my senior year I would like to be dunking, and I would like to reach 1,000 points.” 

Heard has been a part of the last three teams at Lanett to make a semifinal run. This year’s team is different, but Heard believes that the Panthers have the will to take that next step. 

“I think this team is much younger than it was last year,” Heard said. “It’s going to take a lot of work to get to that level. I think we can do it because everybody is willing to give their all on the court to get that state championship.”