Hardwood Hype: Grace Heeps Takes Passion and Commitment to UMass

Photo via @graceheeps32 and @NMH_Hoops
Photo via @graceheeps32 and @NMH_Hoops /

One of New England’s best is headed to UMass

“She’s a walking triple-double.”

That’s what an opposing coach said to me when asked to describe the game of Grace Heeps in one sentence.  That says a lot about a kid, especially during a time where so much emphasis can be put on the point column in a box score.  For Heeps, who certainly has personal goals, it’s all about winning.

“As soon as the ball goes up, I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” she told High Post Hoops.

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When I first saw Grace play on the AAU circuit, for Coach Terrance Florence and the NY Havoc, what stood out to me was her leadership, the ability to see the floor, get everyone involved, defend, and simply compete. There was no one on the floor competing at the level in which Heeps was. By the way, she can flat out score the ball too.

When the 5’11 guard decided to go to prep school for her junior year, there were a host of schools and coaches that hoped Heeps would be suiting up for them that winter.  She chose Northfield Mount Hermon School, in Gill, MA.

For her, and for Head Coach Grace Rehnquist, it was a perfect fit. When asked what drew her to recruiting Heeps, Rehnquist pointed directly to her attitude.

“She is a ‘can do’ and ‘will do’ type of athlete,” rehnquist said. “Athletically it (recruiting her) was a no-brainer. She makes it really easy to be her coach.”

For Heeps, she wanted something different. The exposure, while it was going to increase at NMH, didn’t play much of a factor in her move. She wanted a better all-around high school experience, and basketball-wise, she wanted to be pushed.  Heeps certainly got that at NMH.  NMH, who competes at the class AA level in the New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), plays against the best schools from across New England.  They are fresh off of a 21-3 season, in which they fell in the AA semi-finals to Tabor Academy.

“Coach’s practices are like college practices,” Heeps said. “There is a high level of competitiveness in everything that we did. That’s what I wanted: I wanted to be college ready. Every drill is timed and we were constantly being challenged.”

When asked to describe herself as a player, Heeps said, “I’m a leader. A vocal presence. I’m a good shooter that gets everyone involved. I definitely need to be more aggressive and I’m excited to keep getting better.” In regards to her leadership, I haven’t seen many better.  Rehnquist would agree. “She will never ask a teammate to do something she isn’t doing from a physical or emotional standpoint, and her work ethic is proof of it.”

Needless to say, a college is going to not only get an elite-level talent on the court, but a leader who is passionate, prideful, and an overall great person.  That school is UMass.

Heeps had over 25 offers in total, but it was UMass that won her over — and quickly.

“I visited right before the July live period (heading into senior year) and I fell in love with the school,” Heeps said.

UMass assistant coach Mike Leflar — who was just starting his first year at UMass — had been recruiting Heeps in his previous position at Northeastern University, and had seen her play even prior to her arrival at NMH.

“I loved her enthusiasm and feel for the game,” Leflar told High Post Hoops. “She made an impact on every possession. Her ability to shoot and score was an added bonus to everything else that stood out,” Leflar told High Post Hoops.

UMass will be getting a do-it-all type of talent as they look to improve upon a 16-16 season, and compete atop of the Atlantic-10.

As for Heeps, she’s certainly ready to take the next step. She’s not just ready for basketball at the college level, but ready for the next chapter in her life.

“I can’t wait to get there,” she said. “I’m ready to be a college student and I’m ready to make an impact on the court.”

Rehnquist, who played college ball at Williams College, and coached for two years at Connecticut College, knows that Heeps is ready, too.

“She already trains, lifts, eats, studies, and lives like a college athlete,” Rehnquist said. “I think she’s going to be a locker room leader, a culture carrier, and a gym rat.”

Those are strong words coming from a tremendous basketball player herself, and one of the best coaches in the NEPSAC.

There are few kids out there, that when you watch them play, you can see the readiness in their game. Heeps is one of those kids.  UMass, who will be bringing in another NEPSAC stand-out in Angelique Ngalakulondi, a 6’3 forward from Proctor Academy, is poised to make a tremendous leap in the A-10 this year.  Heeps could’ve gone a number of different ways with her recruitment, but be sure that UMass is thrilled that she chose to spend the next four years in Amherst, MA.

There are certain types of athletes that carry culture forward, and there are other types of athletes that help define, create, and cultivate culture.  Heeps has the talent, leadership ability, and mentality, to do all of those things and much more.  UMass is a program that is on the rise, and at some point soon, Heeps is going to be in the middle of it all.

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