Hightower could receive prestigious senior award
Right now, all eyes are on Carlene Hightower’s numbers. With the season’s end approaching, the women’s basketball team is mounting a rally in the hopes of seeing post-season play—a rally that has come mostly on the strength of some impressive statistics from the senior forward.
The last two weeks: 80 points (including 12 three-pointers), 15 rebounds and seven steals in three games. Add some solid percentage points—62, 80 and 86 from the floor, arch and line, respectively—and it’s no surprise why she received two straight Player of the Week honors from the A-10.
Impressive? No doubt. But Hightower’s been putting statistics like this up all year, and as a result the eyes of many La Salle basketball fans have a new number and percentage to look over. The number’s set at 10, while the percentage is stalled at 11 (but it doesn’t have to be).
Hightower was recently named as one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, an award that emphasizes both on- and off-field achievements in eight different NCAA sports by focusing on the “Four C’s” of classroom, character, community and competition. All 10 finalists have been placed on a ballot for a nationwide vote that concludes March 21.
As La Salle’s lone nomination, Hightower, a Philadelphia native, is up against some stuff competition from bigger schools. However, she’s still registering in the top five with 11 percent, just nine off from vote-leader Sarah Elliott of the University of Kentucky.
“It’s an great honor for me,” Hightower said. “There’s a lot of national players on the list. Fowles from LSU, Humphrey from Georgia, and the other girls. It’s an honor to be considered in a category with all of them.”
Despite Hightower’s humble proclamations, she can’t argue the fact that she deserved the award. Currently tied for the conference lead with 10 games of 20 points or more, she is ranked in the top 10 in four other categories—overall points (fourth with 422), average points/game (third with 17.6), average steals/game (sixth with 1.92) and free throw percentage (tenth with .772). In addition, she’s also pulling down a 3.0 GPA as a speech, language and hearing major.
“I feel like I deserve it,” she said. “I work hard, both in the classroom and in the gym. I live in this gym; I’ve spent my life in gyms because I’ve wanted to be classified as a good player. I feel like I’ve reached that goal.”
Head Coach Tom Lochner agrees. In addition to her statistics, he indicated Hightower brings “positive emotion” and “an intense passion for the game” as a leader on the squad. He also pointed at other intangibles that make her worthy of the CLASS award.
“She does exceptionally well in the classroom, so that’s there,” he said. “And character; you want to talk about character? Carlene is a very good family person. I think that played a big part in why she stayed here to go to college. She’s got a big following and there’s always a lot of fans here for her at home games, her brothers, sisters, immediate family. That’s what’s important to her and her actions reflect that.”
The youngest of seven, Hightower doesn’t hide from this characterization. If she wins the award, she indicated it would be as much a victory for her family, as it would be for her.
“My family are my biggest fans,” she said. “They are my inspiration. They’re here at every game and sometimes I can even hear them when I can’t hear my coach. I feel like I’m living their dream, because all of my siblings wanted to continue on and play basketball, but none of them could, unfortunately. So I often feel like I’m playing for them.”
Since balloting started on Feb. 8, Hightower’s made significant progress, but she’s been hovering in the middle of the pack for the past week. She indicated that her family and friends—“the people in her corner”— are a big reason she’s staying competitive in the balloting.
Count Lochner among the voting faithful. Saying that his wife, friends and team have been voting every day, he expressed hope that the voting would continue to network outward to the La Salle community, while also indicating the positive effect it can have on La Sale’s program.
“We have an underdog mentality and we try to use that to our advantage,” he said. “We say things like, ‘We have the smallest arena in the A10,’ to magnify our underdog role. So with this, there are some perennial powerhouses nominated and then there’s little La Salle seen in the same context. I think it benefits the team.”
In addition to her output this season, Hightower has been putting up big numbers throughout her college career. Last year, she became the third La Sallian ever to make the A-10 First Team All-Conference, and she recently moved into the top 10 all-time in scoring at the school with 1,347 points. She’s also tallied 174 steals, 664 rebounds and 25 games with 20 points or more. Even better, her 30-point performance agaisnt Fordham this weekend, gave her three for her career, making her the first Explorer with three or more 30-plus games since Chrissie Donahue (1993-97).
However, despite the continued success, Lochner indicated she’s really taken her game to a new level this year.
“She wasn’t the focus of the defensive last year because of Crista [Ricketts],” he said. “Also, Grabber had an excellent three point shot..., [which] ... kept the floor open and so it was not as easy for defenses to focus on Carlene. This year it was different, but we’ve adjusted and she’s adjusted to work it out and get the chemistry where it needs to be.”
As a result of her hard work, Hightower is mulling over the possibility of continuing on with basketball after graduation. Although she loves speech therapy, professional basketball has been a lifelong aspiration so she’s willing to put a career as a speech therapist on the backburner for the time being.
“I’m excited to see what awaits me, and if I’ll get a chance to play in the WNBA or overseas,” she said. “Coach Lochner has received a call from the commissioner of the WNBA who says I’m on a list of candidates for the draft, so we’ll see.
With La Salle basketball having been such a huge part of her lfie for the past few years, Hightower acknowledged she would be sad to leave the team at the end of the season, but indicated “all good things must come to an end.”
“I did my time here so now it’s like I have to fulfill the rest,” she said. “If I felt as if I could’ve done more, I’d feel bad. But I feel good about what I’ve accomplished here, and about moving on.”
However, before she does move on, Hightower has unfinished business at La Salle. A continuation of the women’s current winning streak Wednesday would keep ost season hopes thriving, and there’s still the issues of the CLASS award. Although she knows this competition will be tough, she’s facing it head on.
“I don’t get intimidated,” she said. “Not even when we play against ranked opponents. I just don’t. I feel like I can win [the award]. I’m moving on up, and hey, if I don’t win, it’s not a big deal. One out of 10 is good enough for me.”
La Salle fans can vote for Hightower online at .seniorclassaward.com once every day up until the March 21 deadline.
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