It’s like seeing the Running of the Bulls from behind a fence. Like one of those grind-it-out, 1970s Ohio State-Michigan football games in TV technicolor.
And in the eyes of University of Washington women’s coach Tia Jackson, nothing could be more beautiful.
“It’s hard not to fall in love with hard work,” Jackson said of Heard’s aggressive approach to basketball. “She forces you to love her because she puts everything out there for her team.”
While the hard-nosed freshman from Snohomish might not have the most aesthetically-pleasing game to all diehard basketball fans, there is one thing about Heard’s game upon which everyone can agree.
It’s best seen from a safe distance.
Since the time the fourth of Jeff and Kelly Heard’s five children started playing youth basketball, she has been the proverbial bull in the china shop. Relentless crashing the boards and chasing down loose balls, “Marjie” Heard has been known to leave more than a few opponents in her wake.
“I guess I don’t really like being pushed around,” the 6-foot-1 freshman said this week. “I’m a bigger person, so just being able to push people back on the court is something I take advantage of.”
Heard’s aggressive style is part nature (father Jeff is a former nose guard and wrestling coach), part nurture (she’s the youngest of four sisters and has a 200-pound, 16-year-old “little” brother) and part Tiger Beat (she wears the No. 40 to honor her childhood crush: former UW rebounding machine Jon Brockman).
When it all comes together, Heard runs around the court with the controlled aggression of a bulldozer. She has stepped into the starting lineup as a true freshman and ranks second on the team in scoring (7.6 points per game) and third in rebounding (5.1 per game) among current starters, and she’s been known to snap at older teammates if they’re out of position.
No one, least of all Jackson, seems surprised at how quickly Heard has taken to the college game. The UW coach fell in love with her ability when Heard was 15 years old and far from a polished product. Since then, Heard has learned to channel her aggression and become a key role player.
It hasn’t been easy.
Jeff Heard, her father, recalls her being a pretty aggressive kid from the time Marjie was a toddler.
“She could fall down, and most kids would be crying, but she’d get up and just keep going,” he said.
Marjie Heard carried that same persona to the court, where her father coached her as a young player. While teammates were often concerned with how they looked in their uniforms or how many points they scored, Marjie just wanted to go after the ball whenever it hit the backboard or the floor.
“She didn’t have the technique as you would think, but she always had the energy,” said Jeff Heard, who had a football scholarship to Montana State in the mid-1970s but saw his career end because of a motorcycle accident. “She enjoyed playing defense more than offense, which is kind of unique for a young kid. She didn’t care if she was shooting the ball; she just wanted to get her hands on it when it was shot.”
Marjie Heard said she gets a lot of her natural makeup from her father, who occasionally engaged her in playful wrestling matches when she was young.
“He’ll pin you on the carpet and say, ‘Who’s the boss?’” Marjie said with a laugh. “Nothing aggressive or abusive — just enough to make you squeal.”
Her high school coaches — Ken Roberts for two years at Snohomish, and then Brian Hill for Heard’s final two years at Glacier Peak — tried to squeeze some of that over-aggression out of her game so she would stay out of foul trouble — not that they were very successful.
“The laws of inertia: people would bounce into her, but she would send them flying and not necessarily send her flying,” Hill said. “So I would always try to curtail her aggressiveness, what you should go after and shouldn’t go after.”
Heard still couldn’t help herself on the court.
“When people cut through (the lane), I kind of shove them with my body just to get them out of the way,” she said unapologetically. “... I believe that if you hit someone through the key, and they take a hit hard enough, they won’t come in again.”
The freshman still carries that attitude into college games, where she’s able to get away with more. Whether an opponent is just as aggressive or meek and passive, Heard loves to bang bodies.
“If they don’t like the physical game, you play physical with them and they crumble,” she said. “There are posts who are long and lengthy and have a good pull-up game, and if you push them off the block they’re going to — I don’t know how to describe it — wimp out, I guess.
“I like people who’ll hit me back, but it’s also nice to play people when they’re not physical.”
Despite her reckless style of play, Heard has been one of the few UW players to stay healthy this season — and she’s earned plenty of playing time while others have nursed injuries.
“Have you felt one of her arms? She’s like a machine,” Jackson said when asked how Heard has been able to crash the boards and hit the floor without much more than a few bruises. “I’d like to keep her healthy. She’s a fun kid. A fun kid.”
With a big smile and an outgoing personality, Marjie Heard exudes plenty of fun off the court. But when she’s on the court, it’s best to watch from a distance.
“When I’m on the court,” she said, “I can be ... I don’t want to say ‘rude.’ But, you know, I want to get things done.”
No matter who gets in her way.
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