UK women’s basketball freshman recovering from heart surgery

It is unclear when the crown jewel of Kentucky women’s basketball’s 2022 recruiting class will play for the Wildcats after a major offseason surgery, UK announced Tuesday.

Tionna Herron — a four-star post player from DeSoto, Texas — was considered the centerpiece of UK’s incoming recruiting class due to the physicality and size she offers on the court at a position of need for the Wildcats.

Herron underwent successful open-heart surgery in August, and is anticipated to return to the UK campus in early October, according to Kentucky.

There is no timetable on Herron’s return to game action.

“Prior to Tionna arriving in Lexington in June, she was made aware of a structural abnormality involving her heart,” said Courtney Jones, who works as UK’s women’s basketball athletic trainer. “When she got to campus to begin her collegiate career, we consulted second opinions and surgical repair was recommended before returning to athletics at a high level. Tionna underwent successful open-heart surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas, on Aug. 24, and she is in the process of recovering at her home in DeSoto, Texas.”

At 6-foot-4, Herron, who is nicknamed “Tree,” is the tallest player listed on the 2022-23 Kentucky women’s basketball roster.

Kentucky’s need for an elite interior presence was highlighted last season as the Wildcats had just three players listed as playing frontcourt positions, which forced former UK guards Rhyne Howard and Treasure Hunt to play as frontcourt players.

Two of UK’s three listed frontcourt players from last season — center Olivia Owens and forward Dre’una Edwards — transferred out of the program this offseason, furthering the importance of the addition of Herron.

“Tionna is the definition of a warrior,” Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy said. “When surgical repair was recommended, she was so intentional and mature in making her decision. Now, we are gratefully on the other side of her open-heart surgery and cheering her on as she begins her comeback. Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring … speaking for myself and the rest of the coaches, staff and players, we are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

The freshman from Texas also represented the first major recruiting moment for Elzy as the full-time Kentucky women’s basketball head coach.

Just one week after Elzy was named the full-time head coach in December 2020, Herron committed to UK.

“It’s a big that we’ve been waiting for,” Elzy previously said of Herron. “Someone that can protect the paint, shot blocker, has great touch around the rim.”

0225 BBall Duncanville-Desoto 14
Tionna Herron, left, led her DeSoto, Texas, high school team to back-to-back state championships her junior and senior seasons. Bob Haynes Special to the Star-Telegram

Kentucky women’s basketball freshman post player Tionna Herron underwent successful open heart surgery in August, and is anticipated to return to the UK campus in early October. UK Athletics

Herron arrived at Kentucky with a winning pedigree: She closed her high school career at DeSoto with consecutive state championships as a junior and senior.

Kentucky won out in the recruitment of Herron over other scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Florida, Florida State, Louisville and Ole Miss.

Herron is one of six true freshmen on the UK roster this season, along with guards Kennedy Cambridge, Amiya Jenkins, Cassidy Rowe and Saniah Tyler, and forward Zennia Thomas.

Kentucky has 10 total newcomers on the team this season, with those six true freshmen joined by four transfers (guards Eniya Russell and Maddie Scherr and forwards Ajae Petty and Adebola Adeyeye).

Kentucky has only five players still on the roster from last season’s team that went 19-12 overall, 8-8 in SEC play and won the SEC Tournament, before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Graduate student guard Blair Green, who missed all of last season after suffering an Achilles injury in the preseason, will be joined on the UK roster again by grad student guard Robyn Benton, senior guard Emma King, junior forward Nyah Leveretter and sophomore guard Jada Walker.

Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on Kentucky men’s basketball recruiting and the UK men’s basketball team, horse racing, soccer and other sports in Central Kentucky. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter in Austin, Texas.

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