Megan Herbert has those bright eyes and a delightfully deceptive smile.
She has that soft, sweet voice like the friendly girl at the ice cream counter.
Don’t be fooled, when she gets on the basketball court, the undersized 5-foot-11 post is an assassin.
She tears defenses to shreds. She beats teams up. She breaks hearts.
I’ve watched more than three decades of University of Central Arkansas basketball players, men and women. Sweet, smiling Megan Herbert is as competitive as I’ve seen.
“Got that from my Dad,” she says. “I hate losing, losing at anything. Always have. Always will.”
Herbert, one of the most decorated players in UCA basketball history, played her final game at the Farris Center on Saturday. She leaves with 2,000-plus points, 1000-plus rebounds and enough platitudes and honors to fill a good-sized truck.
Pretty good for someone whom Mom had to make play basketball like a parent has to make their children eat their vegetables.
She says her mother pushed her, kicking and screaming, into the sport in the first grade.
“She made me play; no choice, no option,” said Herbert. “I didn’t start liking it until a couple of years later.”
Now, it’s her only sport, something that defines her. Like most college females, she likes to go to movies, shop, have her nails done, hang on with friends.
Once she goes on the court, she’s almost magically transforms into a monster, fighting off regular double-teams, triple-teams, sagging defenses and elbows from every angle.
What’s interesting, with all the physical pounding, she rarely falls downs unless shoved. In many games, there have been players diving on the floor, knocking each other down in one -on-one battles — and Herbert, like the Stars and Stripes, is still standing. She somehow ends up with the ball and calmly hands it to an official and walks downcourt or to the free-throw line.
“I’ve always had good balance,” she says matter-of-factly. “Just a gift. I’ve worked hard in the weight room on my strength. I know I have to be strong because I am undersized.”
She’s also figured out how to use her size to her advantage.
“I’ve learned how to shoot under and around people,” she said.
She also has the natural instincts for the ball that great safeties have in football.
“I can watch a ball go in the air and pretty much figure out pretty quickly where the rebound is going to go,” she said. “I guess it’s another gift. I watch how my teammates shoot. I know what their shot is gonna do and where it’s usually gonna go when they miss.”
Along with her safety instincts, she has wide receiver hands. Hardly ever any drops.
She’s the Southland Conference’s all-time leader in made free throws — so dependable that coach Sandra Rushing pulled the rest of her starters to the sideline for instruction confident that Herbert would make two free throws with no one under to rebound. She did.
Because of a team deficient in court awareness and ballhandling, she often played point guard this season.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would play point guard,” she said. “But I’ll do anything to help us win.”
She’s also a winner in the classroom. She graduated in December with a degree in nutrition and has spent this semster working on her masters, mostly online.
She’s keeping all her future options open because there may be pro opportunities overseas.
She ended her home career Saturday with 24 points, 11 rebounds and a lot of love. She ended it in frustration as Oral Roberts surged to a 68-53 victory.
Herbert left the game with 1:10 left to a standing ovation. As she arrived at the bench, Micah Rice, who came up with her class but suffered an earlier season-ending injury, gave her a big hug. Rushing patted her on the head.
Afterwards, ORU coach Misti Cussen hugged her in a longer-than-usual exchange of respect.
Not the fairy tale ending. Still an enchanting career.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 over firstname.lastname@example.org)