Everyone in District 4-6A knows Tiara Malone’s name and her game. The cafeteria crew and custodial staff at Arlington Martin High School know her, too.
The Martin girls basketball team’s senior point guard regularly arrives at school at 6 a.m. and often must ask the early-arriving school employees to let her into the varsity gym for a solitary, pre-dawn practice session.
“She does that on her own,” Lady Warriors coach Brooke Brittain said. “ ‘Hey, our custodians and our lunch crew are letting me in in the morning.’ They’re getting to know her by name.”
Malone made a name for herself as a junior, earning first team all-district honors. But she’s elevated her game to another level this season. And her improvement all starts with that tireless work ethic.
“If you say, ‘She’s coming into her own,’ well, she’s earning it — sweat equity — every day,” Brittain said.
In a district-opening win at Arlington High last week, Malone earned every one of her team-leading 16 points. “She gets hot a lot, so people will start to face-guard her,” junior guard Tatum Henderson said. “But we have other people who are open who can make shots.”
Malone, who’s averaging more than 20 points and has scored 30 points multiple times, took the relatively quiet offensive performance against Arlington in stride.
“Every game is different,” Malone said. “Every ref is different. Every team’s defense is different. I just adapted, tried to get my teammates open and give them an opportunity.”
Even on nights when Malone gets plenty of open looks, she’s doesn’t have a shoot-first mentality. “She’s not selfish,” Brittain said. “Sometimes I have had to remind her, ‘Nobody stopped you. Score.’”
Malone isn’t afraid to drive to the basket and she’s adept at hitting open shots. But she also looks to get the ball to skilled shooters like Henderson. “I don’t really look to score,” Malone said. “If they’re open, they’re open.”
Senior guard Hillary Smith, Martin’s defensive stopper, called Henderson and Malone talented offensive players who can also use their length to play stifling defense. “We have different strengths, but work ethic-wise, we work well together,” Smith said of her two fellow co-captains.
Smith, a triple jump standout in track, gets things going for the Lady Warriors by shutting down an opponent’s top ball-handler. It was Martin’s defense that spurred a 17-3 run in the second quarter against Arlington.
And good defense begins with hard work. “They both just work really, really hard,” Henderson said of Smith and Malone. “If people don’t work hard, no matter how much talent they have, they won’t be able to use it.”
When it comes to hard work, the Lady Warriors are up to the challenge. And Malone’s got more 6 a.m. workouts planned.
“We have lots of room to improve in a lot of areas, and they’re committed to doing it,” Brittain said.
The Arlington schools are on holiday break this week, but that doesn’t afford the boys basketball teams much of a break as the season transitions to district competition.
Arlington visits North Crowley at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to kick off district play. Martin and Bowie begin district at the same time, facing one another at Bowie, and Lamar and Sam Houston do the same at Sam Houston.
Seguin, which began district play last Friday, has a non-district game at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, taking on DeSoto at home.
▪ Martin will once again participate in the Whataburger Basketball Tournament. The prestigious event will be Dec. 28-30 at Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City, and the Warriors will be in a pool that includes 2015-2016 state champion DeSoto and highly ranked teams such as Austin Westlake, their first opponent.
The girls squads continue district competition at 6 p.m. Tuesday before getting the rest of the week off.
Lamar visits Sam Houston, Martin hosts Bowie and Arlington travels to North Crowley. Seguin has no games scheduled until Dec. 29.
Stephen English: email@example.com, @sbenglish74