At 6-foot-4, Sherwood's Ava Heiden is going to stand out — especially on the basketball court.
But while Heiden is impressive running, jumping and shooting on the hardwood, it's her presence and demeanor off of it that separates this phenom from the pack.
"She is so kind and is always making everyone around her better by giving them a smile or making them laugh with her sarcasm," Sherwood head coach Lauren Howard said. "She is super-laid back and can pick up a conversation with anyone. Sometimes it feels like I am talking to an adult or a friend. She is easy to talk to and just an all-around great kid."
That attitude — along with her obvious skills — have already taken her to elevated heights. After earning first team all-league honors as a freshman last spring, Heiden took an even greater step this past season by earning the Pacific Conference's Player of the Year award and leading her team to an undefeated conference record and championship.
The former of the individual and team accomplishments are great, but it's the latter that matters most to the sophomore post.
"I love the competition, but also watching a team come together and do great things," Heiden said. "Both are so much fun."
Heiden is not your average second-year high school player.
Her particular set of skills are apparent from the first moment you watch her on the court. She can handle the ball like a guard, pass as well if not better than most, and her size and quick feet make her a problem for even the state's best post defenders.
However, when asked her opinion of Heiden's best asset on the floor, Howard notably pointed to her smarts.
"The best part of Ava's game is her ability to read and see the floor," the Sherwood coach said. "She has such a high IQ that her decision-making is quick and benefits not only her, but her teammates."
Those smarts are a benefit in the classroom as well, where Heiden says she pays extra attention.
The sophomore said she particularly enjoys math and science courses and has challenged herself with advanced placement classes this year. At 16, she is not yet sure what she wants to do for a career but says that academics will be a major piece when deciding where she eventually wants to attend college.
"I pride myself on my academics," Heiden said. "That's actually one of the main things I look at when looking at colleges."
Both of Heiden's parents were athletes at the University of Michigan and they introduced her to basketball at age 5. She said she didn't like it at first, but on the advice of her parents, she stuck with the sport and eventually came to love it.
She said she spends most of her free time on the court playing with either the high school or with her club team, Northwest Select. While she does her share of scoring, Heiden's attitude for the game is refreshing in an era that revolves primarily around points. She believes adaptability is where the true value of a player lies.
"I believe personally that playing unselfish basketball is more important than scoring 20 points every game," Heiden said. "Every player needs to be good at locking down on defense or transition offense, those are the little things that separate you from other players. I think being a versatile player is really important."
It's that understanding and unselfishness that Howard believes differentiates her from many of her peers.
"She is a fantastic teammate that makes everyone around her a better player," Howard said. "She understands the game at such a high level but is humble enough to share the ball and give her teammates a ton of opportunities."
Heiden is far from a finished product, and she admits she has plenty to work on. She said her outside shooting is what she most wants to enhance about her game, and she's working daily to do just that.
Howard has no doubt that it'll happen and is confident that she's only scratching the surface of the player she'll eventually become.
"The beauty of watching and coaching Ava is that she will only continue to get better," the coach said. "She is constantly learning and adjusting to becoming a better player every day. I personally think she has so much potential, and if she continues to work on her skills and expand her game, this kid is going to do big things, and I cannot wait to witness it."
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