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Tionna Herron returns to basketball, Texas after heart surgery
Forward Tionna Herron transferred back to her home state of Texas this offseason after being forced to miss her freshman season at Kentucky following open heart surgery.(Credit: Texas Athletics)

Tionna Herron returns to basketball, Texas after heart surgery

AUSTIN, Texas (BVM) – Much of Tionna Herron’s basketball career has to do with her heart – both literally and figuratively. The 6-foot-4 forward is a self-described hustle player who shows her passion for the game each and every time she is on the court.

“I just fell in love with it,” Herron said. “I’ve got a really big heart for basketball.”

However, it was Herron’s heart that ended up nearly costing the basketball standout her athletic career. Coming out of DeSoto High School in DeSoto, Texas, Herron was ranked as the No. 69 overall prospect in the Class of 2022 by ESPN after leading her Eagles team to back-to-back state championships as a junior and senior.

Herron was able to achieve these amazing milestones despite the fact that both she and her coaches knew she had a heart issue. She had been having check-ups since she was 9, but never had any issues on the court. But, prior to her senior year, Herron had an unrelated surgery which showed she had an irregular heartbeat. Fortunately for Herron, it was deemed that she could play despite being diagnosed with the anomalous aortic origin of a coronary artery (AAOCA) where one of the arteries coming out of her heart was misaligned, due to the fact she never had serious problems with it in the past.

“They basically told me that yeah you have this condition but you never had anything serious happen like pass out or have anything wrong with me,” Herron said. “They said it’s on the other side of your heart so it’s not the dangerous kind where you need surgery so you can keep playing basketball and don’t have to have the surgery.”

As a top prospect in the Class of 2022, Herron had her share of potential suitors but decided on joining the program at the University of Kentucky.

“I wanted to go away from home,” Herron said. “I just felt like I wanted to try something new.”

Once on campus, Herron had to go through a number of tests to be cleared to play for the Wildcats. While she passed a number of these examinations, she was sent to a cardiologist in Atlanta where she was told she had to get the surgery before she could play at the collegiate level.

“I was just like, ‘Whatever I need to do to get back on the court,’” Herron said. “I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t scared, I was just really upset because I wanted to get back on the court.”

In August, Herron underwent open heart surgery to correct the issue. Though she was singularly focused on getting back on the court, she had times of unease.

“I was fine until I got rolled back in the room and I saw the scissors and the gauze that they were going to use, that just terrified me,” Herron admitted. “But my whole mindset was to get through this so you can get back on the court and that was my whole mindset ever since.”

During her recovery, Herron faced something she never had to deal with before—being out of the lineup. Missing action not only pushed the freshman to attack her recovery even more but also helped her fall deeper in love with the game.

“I’ve never sat out before so to go from playing my last high school game to not being able to play, it’s devastating. I just had to keep high hopes and pray,” Herron said. “I watched a whole season of games sitting on the bench, wishing I was out there, seeing the things I could change if I was out there. I feel like my passion for the game is even stronger now.”

Herron was cleared to exercise in December and worked as hard as she could to get back on the court, shedding as much weight she gained while out as quickly as possible. When she finally was able to get back on the court to practice with her team, it was an overwhelming feeling.

“I was definitely excited,” Herron said. “It had been so long since I ran with the team or got to do a drill period so I didn’t care what it was. You could put me out there and try to kill me and I would be happy about it because it had been over a year. I was just really excited to get out there.”

However, Herron’s surgery not only changed her physical heart but her figurative heart as well. After facing such a difficult situation, Herron decided it was for the best to enter the transfer portal to play for a program closer to her home in DeSoto.

“I just realized when I got here I needed to be closer to my family,” Herron said. “I talked to my mom and said, ‘I know this is really sudden, but I think I need to enter the transfer portal to try to come closer to home.’ That right there is what I needed to be a better me. I just didn’t want to be far away from my family again after that big surgery.”

Herron ultimately decided to join the Texas Longhorns as a transfer. She will have four years remaining after taking a medical redshirt during her one year at Kentucky.

Aside from the fact it was close to home, Herron felt the program was a great fit for her in a number of ways. Not only do the Longhorns have a winning program, much like her program at Desoto, but head coach Vic Shaefer also has a reputation for developing high-quality bigs.

“The winning mentality and the team being so competitive [drew me in],” Herron said. “I know what Coach Shaefer can do with players like me and I think I can get everything I need out of him to be the best I can be.”

Tionna Herron University of Texas Longhorns women's basketball
Herron chose Texas for its winning culture and head coach Vic Shaefer’s ability to develop quality players. (Credit: Texas Athletics)

An additional bonus, Herron will join her former Eagles’ teammate Amina Muhammad on the Longhorns, her best friend since sixth grade.

“I’m excited to be able to play with her again,” Herron said. “She was a big part of it. She was like, ‘You need to come here’ and I was like ‘Why not?’ I’m going to be closer to home and going to be with my best friend who I’ve known since I was 10. That was a big thing coming home and being with friends and family.”

While Herron is still months away from game action, she is eagerly waiting for her time to take the court for a college basketball game for the first time. Given all that she’s been through, she just wants people to know how much she loves the game and what she has done in order to be in the position she is in.

“This just shows how strong I am. A lot of people would probably say, ‘I had this big surgery, I’m not going to go back,’ but I have to,” Herron said. “This is the one thing that makes me happy right now and I’m going to fight and keep fighting until I get where I want to be.”