Intangibles set Grace Heeps apart on UAlbany women’s basketball team

UAlbany's Grace Heeps makes a pass next to Bryant's Nicole Gallagher Wednesday.
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UAlbany's Grace Heeps makes a pass next to Bryant's Nicole Gallagher Wednesday.

The leader in minutes played per game for the UAlbany women’s basketball team also ranks seventh in points, fourth in rebounds, second in assists and fourth in steals. But she is one of the captains, and averages a hardy 33.7 minutes per game.

Here ends the last reference to statistics and what they have to do with Grace Heeps’ overall contribution to the Great Danes. 

The 5-foot-11 senior guard from East Greenbush is a wonderful amalgamation of intangibles. Her defense is outstanding. She’s usually the first one back on defense. Before every foul shot, the communications major gathers the team for a quick talk. She’s usually the first to help up a teammate from the floor. And she’s almost always reminding teammates about the scouting report or encouraging them. During any given game, her mouth is more often moving than still.

“I’ve definitely always felt like I’ve been a team player,” Heeps said. “I’ve really been passionate about winning, I hate losing. I feel like that’s the motto I went into it with since I’ve started playing. I’m a very competitive kid. And even in practice, sometimes it gets a little too much. I’m one of those players who will do whatever it takes to win, whether that’s me scoring, whether that’s me making sure I feed the hot hand, whether that’s me getting a defensive stop, getting an important rebound or diving on the floor for loose balls.”

UAlbany coach Colleen Mullen remembered Heeps from AAU just as she was taking the UAlbany job in 2018 and Heeps was committed to attending the University of Massachusetts. But Heeps transferred after one season there.

“And then we had the COVID year, and it was kind of disjointed,” Mullen said. “But within all that, she was always the person that was, like, looking at me and saying, ‘OK, what defense are we in, coach? What offense are we in?’ and then reiterating it and echoing it to her teammates. And I was, like, wow, she is really on point. She’s really that vocal leader.”

Heeps said her defensive focus is the thing she has worked the hardest at since arriving at UAlbany.

“Because I’m not the fastest laterally or the quickest,” Heeps said. “And I think really knowing other players and knowing what they like to do, and really locking into the scout in practice makes me a more efficient and a better overall one-on-one defender. I’ve always been a great off-ball defender, but really focusing on the players I’m guarding and what they like to do was my main focus to become a better overall defender.”

Heeps has gotten Mullen’s respect for knowing scouting reports so well. 

“Grace knows the scout. I mean, by far, knows the scout through and through, talking about it in the warmups,” Mullen said.

“She’s just kind of that little extended arm from coach Mullen on the sideline, always talking to her [about] what we’re in, what we’re doing, and then delivering that to the team,” teammate Ellen Hahne said. “So I think her vocal leadership is just amazing. And it has just, like, changed our program and how we have been able to be successful.”

Heeps didn’t have to change her game when she became a captain, as doing the little things will always garner favor, but she said she has learned how to lead specific people better.

“[On-court] you can do the small things that matter, things that will get you more playing time, like things that will maybe be motivating for the bench players to know what they can do when they want to get more minutes,” Heeps said. 

As far as communication, Heeps feels like she has learned how to listen and what to say to different types of players.

“If that is saying, ‘Hey, get the next one; flush that mistake in the past,’ or if that’s maybe talking to them outside of basketball, like giving them things to focus on or things that will help them boost their morale. And I think the overall thing that has come in my leadership is really developing relationships. I feel like being approachable and being relatable has helped me build connections with the younger players, as well as people who are the same age as me.”

As an example, Mullen said Heeps helped take Lilly Phillips under her wing last season.

Heeps has been, Mullen said, the quintessential role player for UAlbany (5-0 America East, 11-8 overall), which will try to keep its record perfect in the America East at 3 p.m. Saturday, when it hosts NJIT at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.

“And it may not be the role she thought she was going to have in college,” Mullen said. “Maybe she wants to be the leading scorer, but now she knows I’m going to play a lot of minutes for coach Mullen, because I’ve created this niche for myself. And now she can’t take me off the floor because I fulfill this important, critical role of keeping the team together and keeping the team organized.”

There is one scouting report she hasn’t mastered yet, but that’s because it’s still being written: what her plans are for next year. Heeps has one season left of college eligibility she could use, but is unsurprisingly focused on what comes first.

“We’ve got to go back to the NCAA tournament,” Heeps said, smiling. “Do whatever it takes to get there.”

Contact Will Springstead at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @WLSpringstead.

Categories: College Sports, Sports, UAlbany

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