Since co-founding the Alabama Heat Elite in 2012, Steve and JoVanka Ward have heard a lot of things about travel basketball. Some of it’s good and some of it’s not.
That’s part of the reason the married couple decided through the years to keep their program relatively small. They have focused mostly on players from the Birmingham area and left the rest of Alabama for other programs.
If you look at the Heat Elite’s website, you will notice that the list of players who have come through the program isn’t littered with big-name players that went on to big-name colleges.
“We believe in doing things right,’’ said Steve, who will serve as the Heat Elite’s coach this spring and summer.
That hasn’t stopped the Heat Elite from being competitive in the past and that should continue into 2022. The Heat Elite are scheduled to play in the Deep South Classic in Raleigh, N.C., April 22-2 and the ASGR Summer League in Bloomington, IN, July 9-12.
The Heat Elite always have been competitive in those types of settings because they always are well coached – whether it’s by Steve or JoVanka. For them, basketball is a year-round way of life. JoVanka, who coached the Heat Elite when they started, now leads the program’s board of directors.
A former player at Hampton University, JoVanka had stints as a college assistant at Howard, Virginia State, Alabama A&M and Alabama-Birmingham. But after she and Steve decided to start a family, JoVanka began coaching high school girls. She currently is coaching at Ramsay High School.
Steve, who was a standout player at Alabama A&M, is in his 14th year coaching the boys varsity team at Huffman High. He switches to coaching girls in the spring and summer.
The fact that both Wards have coached boys and girls might be a positive.
“I see it as an advantage if you’ve been on both sides,’’ All-Star Girls Report Director of Scouting Bret McCormick said. “Coaches that have been on both sides of it are better at seeing potential in girls.’’
Steve Ward says the Heat Elite will be led by two frontcourt players in 2022. Both will be members of the Class of 2023. Cheyenne Pearson, a 6-foot-3 center suffered a torn ACL last summer. But Ward says she’ll be ready to go in the spring and summer.
“Cheyenne is very mobile,’’ Ward said. “She finishes well and has good touch around the basket.
Pearson will be joined up front by 6-2 post player Taylor Smith.
“Taylor’s strength is that she’s a good rim protector and a very good rebounder,’’ Ward said.
Ward said he also is expecting big things from three players in the Class of 2024.
Brianna Adams is only 5-10, but Ward said she can play inside or outside.
“She has a very good first step,’’ Ward said. “She also runs the floor very well.’’
Reagan Whitaker is 5-10 and Ward said she may end up playing college soccer instead of basketball.
“She’s a better soccer player than she is at basketball,’’ Ward said. “But she truly loves basketball, so you never know what direction she may go in. If she decides on basketball, I think she can play the two, three and four spots. She’s long and she can shoot the three-pointer.’’
The biggest scorer on the team could be 5-7 Kaelyn Gowley.
“She can flat out shoot it,’’ Ward said. “She can also play the point, but she’s a shooter first. She’s a knockdown shooter.’’