Columbus girls basketball duo Tatyana Wyatt and Ariyah Copeland
Things are a lot different now than they were a year ago for Columbus junior Ariyah Copeland. At this point last year, she was in the midst of recovering from surgery to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and just wondering when she’d finally be able to get back onto the basketball court.
An individual who showed incredible potential as a freshman during the Lady Blue Devils’ run to a state runner-up finish, she was sidelined for all of 2014-15 as Columbus struggled down the stretch and was put out in the first round of the state playoffs.
Finally healthy, the 6-foot-3 Copeland has formed a formidable 1-2 punch inside with fellow junior Tatyana Wyatt (6-foot-2). Together, they account for nearly 40 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots per game and give the Lady Blue Devils reason to believe this year’s postseason could bear more fruit.
They face Harris County and its formidable inside duo of Jessika Carter, who is 6-foot-5, and Taziha Fanning, who is 6-foot, Tuesday night at 6 at Columbus. Harris County is 11-2 and 1-0 in the Region. 1-5A.
“Her being out last year, it was a hit,” coach Joe Cherrone said of Copeland’s absence. “If she was playing, I think things could have been a little different.”
It’s been a long road back for Copeland, who had to go through physical therapy, conditioning and, her least favorite, boxing. Cherrone said the boxing was partly for conditioning, but was also to help improve her footwork for when she returned to the court.
“It wasn’t fun,” she said with a wry smile. “I hated it. But it’s what I needed to do.”
Although she said she was winded for a few games early in the year, she feels like she’s finally getting back from a conditioning standpoint, and Cherrone sees her progress mentally, as well.
“She’s working on things that she missed out early on like defensive placement, situational things,” he said. “For that full year, she busted her butt. The boxing was a great thing. She lost weight and she was able to work on her footwork. She got her upper body stronger. … Mentally, she watched basketball, she asked questions, she stayed active.”
Her numbers reflect it. She averages 14.5 points, 10 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game. Arguably her biggest impact, though, is the defensive attention she commands when she’s on the floor. That has helped free up Wyatt, who leads the team with 24 points per game, and vice versa.
“It’s a balance,” Cherrone said. “They both change the game so much, it allows them to do some things that they wouldn’t otherwise be free to do.”
Wyatt likes to bang inside, but thanks to Copeland’s presence, she doesn’t always have to. Cherrone said that helps keep her fresh and allows her to take advantage of mismatches from mid-range.
“It’s helped a lot actually,” Wyatt said. “It takes a toll off of me. I don’t have to do all the work down low.”
None of this is to say that either of them, or the team for that matter, is happy with where things are. Columbus is 13-1, but dropped a region game to Carver. Both girls have plenty of Division-I attention, but still have another season of high school left after this one.
Cherrone said the best thing about both players is that they are determined to keep getting better.
“There’s a difference between just being good because you’re naturally gifted, and being gifted and trying to get better,” he said. “Ariyah and Tatyana, they both just want to get better at every aspect of their game.”