Air Hearn

Air Hearn's Rise and Growth on the Basketball Court

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2024 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
W.G. Ramirez
Apr 02, 2024

When Air Hearn was a little girl, her mother Sonya would tell her she had nothing to be anxious about.

“You wake up every day, you brush your teeth just like these other girls, you take showers, you work out just like these other girls,” Sonya Renee Hearn would say.

After three seasons playing at Athletes Unlimited Pro Basketball, Hearn has proved she plays like these other girls, too.

WNBA stars, to be exact.

Just ask long-time veterans Allisha Gray and Natasha Cloud, who have both been singing Hearn’s praises in saying she deserves a training camp contract.

“Air Hearn needs a job in the W and I’m gonna keep advocating,” Cloud said. “I’m trying to get Phoenix to bring her into the camp too. I’m gonna keep advocating and utilizing whatever resources that I have. This girl has continued to prove herself over and over and over again against the most elite-level players in the WNBA. This girl deserves her opportunity. She can score, she can facilitate, she plays both ends of the floor, and who she is as a human being. She would be such a blessing to any organization but she’s earned her opportunity.”

Hearn closed the AU campaign ranking fifth in the league with 5,176 leaderboard points, just behind Cloud. In 12 games, Hearn averaged 18.0 points per game while scoring in double digits in 11.

The dynamic guard ranked third in the league a 54.6% shooting clip, while her 29 made 3-pointers were fourth-highest.

During an interview last season, Gray was asked to name one player not on a WNBA roster that deserved to be on one.

“I’ve been on the Air Hearn train since last season, so it’s not new to me,” said Gray, this year’s overall champion. “I think Air deserves to be on a W team or in a training camp at least.”

As does Hearn.

Greatness Is a Process

Hearn doesn’t shy away from why an invite to the W has never found her inbox, despite having the talent, as she admitted she could’ve been better at being more willing to learn and be coached.

“Just thinking back over the eight years, I think it definitely just wasn’t my time,” Hearn said. “God’s time is right about everything. Not only basketball-wise, I had to have a character change. I would say that my character probably wasn’t the best. I had other things going on in my life that I’ve since let go. … I feel like now is the time that I fit. I fit the style of play, I fit where the W is going.”

Part of her learning process came during the inaugural season of AU Pro Basketball while playing on Team Cloud during a marathon of a game against eventual 2022 champion Tianna Hawkins’ squad.

The teams went into overtime during a game that saw 22 lead changes and had 24 ties.

And while she played just seven minutes of the entire game, Hearn sat back and soaked up the fact she was among players such as Cloud and Hawkins, who had won the WNBA title a few years earlier, not to mention Kelsey Mitchell, Sydney Colson, Kalani Brown, and DiJonai Carrington — all of whom she had watched at some point during their respective WNBA careers.

“I just felt like the spirit of God just told me it’s not my time,” Hearn said. “I really need(ed) to watch and learn. Like, these W players are really good, so I just needed to watch and learn. … I knew as long as I would be back to AU, then I would be better. That was my humbling moment, just being on the bench … having to take all of those steps back. I really had to sit and watch and I had to learn how to be a good teammate. I had to learn how to keep encouraging. I’ve never been in that position where I’m just on the bench the whole game.

“My ultimate goal is to be in the W and just to play on the highest level. And I felt like AU is kind of my best shot. It’s kind of like a layup for me. So I knew I had to get in the gym, I knew what I had to work on. I just took that year to work on myself, to work on the details, and also just to rest. I got in better shape. Just seeing the results of not only the work that I put in last year, this is the work that I’ve been putting in for years.”

Becoming Great

Hearn said while taking time away from actual competition, she “lived in a gym” while honing in on her skills and coming away with a new breed of confidence.

“Just knowing that preparation breeds confidence, I knew that I had to prepare better, I had to work harder,” she said.

Aside from sharpening her basketball skills, Hearn said she worked on getting into shape, running on the football field, sprinting at times, or running miles for conditioning. The idea was to come out on the other side game-ready.

When she was in the weight room, it was body parts she knew she needed to rely on to knock down shots.

“I did a lot of shoulder work, a lot of leg work,” Hearn said. “I know I have to get my legs stronger in order to get my shots up and make them go in. My strength and conditioning coach used to say everything in basketball always starts with the legs, so I put in a lot of leg work, a lot of shoulder work, a lot of back work to complement my style of play.”

Now, as subtle and humble as she can be, the God-fearing baller out of Memphis is confident in saying she’s confident in what she would bring to a WNBA training camp.

“I just came in this (AU) season with the confidence knowing that I can compete with anybody in the W,” Hearn said. “I’m just as good. I truly feel like I deserve to be here. And just keeping that mindset, it really gives me that much more confidence.”

It’s been a long climb for Hearn, since playing her final year playing for Memphis and recently her third with Athletes Unlimited.

The chip on her shoulder is still there, but it carries a much different aura, one that can be appreciated with a much better attitude toward the sport she loves.

“There’s (been) more W talent (at AU) and just the fact that I’ve been able to showcase, be able to perform, be able to stay healthy, has been the biggest blessing,” Hearn said. “To be honest, I would not be surprised if I did not get a training camp contract. (But) I know that my story is special. I know that my story will definitely be one of a kind; I know that my entry to the W would be one of a kind.

“It would be exciting for young girls that are younger than me to know there are different ways to get there, and I’m just going to have to say that I took the long way when I arrive.”


W.G. Ramirez is a 36-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a correspondent for Athletes Unlimited. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez

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