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February 20, 2013

ON CAMPUS: IU Southeast’s Wheat among leaders in NAIA Division II in scoring, assists, steals

Sophomore has worked hard to become well-rounded player

NEW ALBANY — It does not matter how much Heather Wheat has accomplished in her basketball career.

She continues to strive to become something all great players aspire to be - a complete player.

“I want to be well-rounded as a player,” the IU Southeast sophomore said. “I just take it a game at a time. I want to be good in all aspects of the game.”

A perfect example of Wheat’s quest to become an all-around player was this past offseason.

The 5-foot-6 point guard had a solid 2011-12 season as a freshman. Wheat averaged 11.4 points per game and led the Grenadiers in assists (174) and steals (71). She earned a spot on the all-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team and helped the Grenadiers win the KIAC Tournament and advance to the NAIA Division II Women’s National Championship tournament.

But Wheat was not satisfied. She knew she had a lot of things to work on in her game.

So this summer, Wheat went to the gymnasium at her high school alma mater, Louisville Butler, and enhanced her basketball skills. She worked on getting more arch in her jump shot because her shot in the past has been flat. She also worked on dribble penetration and getting the ball into the lane.

Wheat stepped up her conditioning as well, as she ran more and lifted weights.

That hard work has definitely paid off this season.

Along with leading IU Southeast again in assists (140) and steals (88), Wheat is the Grenadiers’ leading scorer at 20.3 points per game. She also is third on the team in rebounding at five boards per game.

That production has resulted in Wheat being ranked high in several statistical categories in NAIA Division II.

Wheat is currently sixth in the nation in points per game, 10th in assists per game (5.0) and 12th in steals per contest (3.14). She is the only player in NAIA Division II to rank in the top 15 in each of those categories.

In fact, Wheat is one of three players, both male and female, of all the college divisions combined throughout the United States to be rated in the top 15 in those categories. Those divisions include all three NCAA classes and NAIA Division I.

But the national statistical rankings do not matter to Wheat. All she cares about is trying to help her team win ballgames.

“When I’m on the court, I don’t think about that stuff a lot,” Wheat said. “All I’m concerned about is getting the ‘W.’ I’m more concerned about the team.”

Wheat’s summer conditioning has enabled her to play lots of minutes this season. She ranks first on the Grenadiers in total minutes played (1,070) and minutes per game (38.2).

IU Southeast women’s basketball coach Robin Farris says Wheat’s conditioning has played a huge factor in her stamina this year.

“I know she was in the gym a lot this summer. She takes care of her body and she eats correctly,” Farris said. “I’m sure [the number of minutes] takes a toll on her, and at this time of year, we need to keep an eye on her.”

Wheat knew she had to play a bigger role at IU Southeast this season after the Grenadiers lost two starters to graduation from last season’s 26-8 team in forwards Megan Murphy and Tia Wineinger. Saying goodbye to those two players motivated Wheat to work harder this summer.

“I think it has benefited me a lot,” Wheat said about her offseason work. “I had to step up as a leader more. We needed another scorer and I like getting the ball in the post.”

Wheat’s main focus this week is preparing for the upcoming KIAC Tournament. The Grenadiers (16-12) will begin defense of their conference tournament championship on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Berea (14-16). If IU Southeast wins on Saturday, it will play in the semifinals at home on Monday. The championship game will be Tuesday at the Southeast Activities Building in New Albany.

According to Wheat, it all comes down to her team’s heart if it is to repeat as conference tournament champions.

“We’ve had a pretty rough season,” Wheat said. “But we play with a lot of heart and that’s what it’s going to take.”

Wheat would like nothing more than to play in the KIAC Tourney semis and title game on her team’s homecourt early next week.

“I think it would be very beneficial, but we’ve got to win our first-round game,” Wheat said about possibly playing tournament games at home. “I hate those bus trips, so it would be a great feeling.”

If the Grenadiers repeat as conference tournament champions, they will earn an automatic return trip to the NAIA Division Women’s National Championship. Wheat would like to get IU Southeast’s two seniors, Ashmere and Kortney Woods (no relation), back to nationals.

“It would be great to get them back there for their senior year,” Wheat said. “They’ve been [to nationals] the last three years and I want to see them finish out strong.”

With two years of eligibility left, Wheat has a chance to improve even more as a player.

“She needs to work on her mid-range game. She needs to develop a 10- to 12-foot shot, get into the lane and draw some fouls,” Farris said. “She can go down as one of the best players in our school if she stays healthy and everything continues to go well.”

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