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VOL. 131 | NO. 26 | Friday, February 5, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

Ariel Hearn Goes Where No Tiger Has Gone Before

By Don Wade

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Keith Lee owns the University of Memphis records for career points and rebounds. Yet he didn’t do this.

Andre Turner is the Tigers’ career assists leader. But he couldn’t pull this off.

Senior guard Ariel Hearn is about to do it and when she does, she will become the first player in Tigers history – male or female – to have at least 1,500 career points, 500 career rebounds and 300 career assists.

The points and assists have been in the bag for a while now. With three more rebounds, likely to come on Saturday, Feb. 6, at Elma Roane Fieldhouse when Memphis plays Cincinnati at 2 p.m., the 5-foot-8 Hearn will reach 500.

A triple-threat the likes of which Memphis basketball has never seen.

Eighth-year coach Melissa McFerrin knew she had something special when she recruited Hearn out of Arlington High School, envisioning her as a scoring point guard that could carry more than her share of the offensive weight.

“I never would have imagined the rebounding part of that,” McFerrin said. “She’s probably one of the top 20 guards in the country, her ability to handle and pass, and score. Her versatility puts her in that category.”

Ariel was 4 years old when her dad, who played high school ball, did what fathers so often do with their sons: taught her to dribble and shoot, started her down a path that had her playing on a boys fourth-grade church league team, eventually in ultra-competitive AAU ball with other girls, and finally landing a Division I scholarship.

There was much, well, instructive hollering along the way.

“He’s always gotten on me since I was yea-high,” Hearn said. “He always comes to my games, and the fact he criticizes me, I know he cares and can see something in me.”

With time, of course, a father has to make certain concessions.

“My wife tells me not to say anything,” Sultaire Hearn said. “I just can’t help but bark out orders. (Ariel) can hear me. Coach McFerrin can hear me. That’s why my wife tells me not say anything; most of the time I’m perched at the top of the fieldhouse.”

Ariel says her father has toned things down a bit. In part, it’s a strategic decision.

“I have a little high blood pressure,” he said. “I don’t want to have a medical emergency at the game.”

Then-No. 15 USF had a basketball emergency here on Jan. 20. They couldn’t stop Hearn. She hit them for 33 points (4-for-9 from behind the arc) with 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals in the Tigers’ 88-87 overtime victory. It was the Tigers’ first win over a ranked opponent in two years.

It is, at least for now, Sultaire’s favorite memory. A career night for Ariel, but in the middle of a signature win as the team maintained its composure.

It was also overwhelming evidence of how far Hearn has come. She never lacked confidence, mind you, but like so many young players she was once indifferent about defense.

“We fought her entire freshman year about defending the basketball and maybe part of her sophomore year,” McFerrin said. “Last year she became our best defender.”

McFerrin told Hearn upon arrival on campus that she had a chance to be one of the top 10 players in the program’s history.

“She was completely offended because, in her mind, it was gonna be a whole lot better than one of the 10 best players,” McFerrin said.

And so it has come to be.

Ariel Hearn is about to do what no other Tiger basketball player has ever done. Not Keith Lee, not Andre Turner, not even Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Too soon, she will take off her No. 4 jersey for the last time. But until then she works to extend the season – the experience – as long as possible.

“Stats don’t satisfy me,” Hearn said. “Wins satisfy me. But later on, it’s gonna mean everything.”

And with that, she looked toward the top of the fieldhouse and smiled. “I plan on seeing my jersey hanging up around here a few years after I graduate.”

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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