Liz Heaps’ love of basketball comes naturally from her coaching dad

WHETHER SHE’S in the game, or on the bench, Grand Junction High School senior Liz Heaps is focused on the game, just like her father, Mesa State College men’s coach Jim Heaps. Liz was never pressured into playing basketball, but said she got her love of the game from her dad.

Certain names go with certain sports in the Grand Valley.

For example, say tennis and the name Elliott comes up. How about baseball? Taylor, Bergman and Suplizio come to mind. Basketball?  One name that would qualify has to be Heaps.

Jim Heaps has been with the Mesa State men’s basketball program as a player or a coach for 25 of the past 29 years.

Heaps’ two daughters, Sarah and Liz, both play basketball. Sarah, now a student at Mesa State, played basketball at Grand Junction High School and Liz, the younger of the two, is a senior at Grand Junction. Being the daughter of a college basketball coach might come with the assumption of eating and sleeping hoops.

In the Heaps’ household, that just isn’t the case.

“I think for some coaches’ kids, there is a pressure of, ‘I’ve gotta play basketball because Dad coaches basketball,’ ” Jim Heaps said. “But for us, we just wanted them to do something constructive. They can do other sports (Liz is also on the tennis team), they can do a play, I don’t care, just as long as they are doing constructive things. I would tell them, ‘you don’t have to play basketball because that is what I do.’ ”

For Liz, having Brownson Arena at Mesa State as a second home made being interested in basketball a no-brainer.

“I grew up there, so it is just natural,” she said. “I picked (basketball) up because of him but I kept with it because I love it. Plus it was something we had in common, so I liked that about it, too. But he never pressured me to play.”

The elder Heaps knew from the get-go that with his daughters playing basketball, he would be more of a typical dad in the stands than a coach.

Jim Heaps can been seen at Grand Junction home games sitting quietly in the stands observing Liz play. He said he’s tried to make sure the girls knew there was a line between Dad and Coach.

“A coach has to be critical of certain aspects of your game,” Jim Heaps said. “If they ask me,

I’ll give them my opinion, but I try not to bring it up or talk about what she did wrong.”

That’s not to say coach Heaps doesn’t supply Liz with some of the knowledge he has gained from his time coaching basketball. Liz said she learned a lot about the game from her dad.

“We will go in the offseason and play, just the two of us, and he’ll tell me how to shoot better and everything,” Liz said. “He explains plays to me if I have trouble with them.”

Growing up a Heaps shows when Liz is on the court for the Tigers.

Grand Junction has a young team — Liz is one of four seniors on the roster and she and Lisa Hughes are the only seniors in the starting lineup.

Liz probably will never lead the Tigers in scoring, but provides the young team with something just as important.

“Liz is like another coach out there,” Tigers coach Sam Provenza said. “She understands the game so well and she gets people where they belong and gets people going for us.”

Provenza said Liz also serves the role of a mentor for the younger players.

“She has taken it upon herself to move those young kids through the program a little better,” Provenza said. “She is not negative with them, she is a real positive influence on them.”

That’s something Coach Heaps is proud of.

When he discusses basketball with his daughters, the subject tends to lean more toward things other than Xs and Os.

“We talk about the importance of having a leader on the team,” Heaps said. “Those are the type of things I stressed to both of them.”

And for Liz, her dad’s basketball lessons have served her well on and off the court.

“He has taught me how to react to things,” Liz Heaps said, “that things won’t always go your way but that you just have to accept everything. He has taught me more as a person than as a coach.”


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