Apr 20, 2016

On Court and Off, Duncanville Pair Builds Bond through Basketball at Texas

Reporting Texas

Ariel Atkins and Tasia Foman. Josefina Mancilla/Reporting Texas

In 2008, Ariel Atkins and Tasia Foman lined up on opposite sides of a Duncanville half-court line. Atkins wore a Reed jersey, Foman wore Byrd. If Atkins hit the ground, Foman helped her up. When Foman made a nice pass, Atkins told her so. They were best friends away from basketball — but it was also as if they were teammates, too.

Then they were.

The two now-sophomores played for the Texas Longhorns team that finished last season 31-5, spent the entire year in the Top 10 and advanced to the Elite Eight before losing in the NCAA tournament to Connecticut. Atkins was a starting guard who could drive and shoot equally well. Foman watched most games from the bench, ready when called.

But it all began years before, back home in Duncanville, when the girls met at the ages of 7. Atkins joined Foman’s AAU team, the Lady Panthers Elite, a year later. Even when they attended separate middle schools — J. Herman Reed and William H. Byrd — they played together on the Lady Panthers. They reunited as freshmen at Duncanville High.

“It was like a breath of fresh air,” Atkins said. “I finally got my sister back.”

They relied on each other during their first high school basketball tryouts. Neither one was aiming to make the freshman team.

“Our freshman year I was like ‘I’m going to work really hard to make JV,’” Atkins said. “Then Tasia’s like ‘What are you talking about? I’m making varsity. We’re making varsity.’”

Atkins, a 5-foot-11 lefty guard, could knock it down from deep or use her size to overpower other guards on the block. Foman, at 5-feet-4, was more of a traditional point guard and used her speed to her advantage.

Duncanville head coach Cathy Self-Morgan proved Foman right when she placed the pair on varsity as freshmen.

“They came in as freshmen pushing the seniors to go harder and be better,” Self-Morgan said.

“They just weren’t your typical freshmen,” she added, as she recalled how the pair was the first ones in the gym and the last to leave.

Their freshmen basketball goals are one of many differences between the pair, who their parents describe as “night and day.”

“Ariel never liked hearing her stats, but Tasia loved it,” said LaRhonda Atkins, Ariel’s mother.

Tasia’s mother, Andrea Underwood, also said the two friends had very different personalities.

“Tasia liked to go out, whereas Ariel was more of a homebody,” Underwood said.

But the girls always had one thing in common: a desire to win. Self-Morgan credits their competitiveness for their state titles their sophomore and junior years, and the chance to three-peat as seniors.

“They were both so competitive and they hated losing more than anything I think in life,” Self-Morgan said. “They didn’t want to leave the gym unless they’ve won whatever it is they’re competing against.”

The two proved they would do whatever to win, even if it meant scoring 90 percent of their team’s points. In the 2013 Sandra Meadows Classic, a tournament Duncanville High hosts every year, the two combined for 54 of their team’s 60 points in the championship game against Whitney Young. Atkins scored 32 points, while Foman added 22.

“We never wanted to disappoint each other because we were doing this with each other, for each other,” Foman said. “We took pride in winning.”

After that win, their goal was completing their high school career with the three-peat. The Duncanville Pantherettes breezed through their opponents in the University Interscholastic League Class 5A State Tournament, and only Manvel stood in the way of achieving that goal.

Early in the second quarter of the state finals, Duncanville led Manvel 14-2. The game grew closer down the stretch, with Manvel trailing 36-31 heading into the fourth. Duncanville led by seven with a little under four minutes remaining in the game. Then Atkins fouled out at the 3:52 mark.

“[Ariel] told Tasia “I’m sorry I left you out there by yourself,” said Underwood.

At the time of the foul, Duncanville led 49-42. Manvel went on a 16-4 run to win the game, 58-53. Foman fouled out with 33 seconds remaining. When the buzzer sounded, tears streamed down Foman’s face, while Atkins wiped her tears.

“I was crying and stuff but she came and picked me up and hugged me the entire time until we had to leave the court,” Foman said. “That moment really represents us.”

The loss took a toll on the girls, and even affected their households.

“It felt like a death in the family,” L. Atkins said. “The house wasn’t the same for weeks.”

Two years removed from the loss, the pain lingers.

“I haven’t moved on from it,” Foman said last fall.

The two find solace in knowing that there are still more championships to be won, which is partially why they went to Texas together. The Longhorns got close in 2015-16.

“We’ve been playing together our whole lives,” Foman said. “Why stop now?”

Injuries have prevented the pair from playing together much in their first two years at Texas. Foman’s minutes grew this season, but Atkins missed the first nine games of the season with an ankle injury.

UT Coach Karen Aston said she expects a “tremendous amount of development” from both players this off season. Each now knows the strengths and weaknesses of her game and can focus her work accordingly, Aston said.

“I expect them both, as I do everyone, to be better players next year,” Aston said. “And for those two, because they’ll be juniors, they’ll have a much more mature personality. The leadership I think will be real obvious from our juniors.”

Atkins and Foman didn’t see much time on the court together this season, but pregame high-fives and running to support one another during media timeouts were the norm. When they reunite in the backcourt next season or beyond, Foman said it’ll be like old times.

“We won’t even have to say anything, we’ll just look at each other and be like, ‘Let’s go,’” Foman said.