Niqky Hughes: Stepping back onto the court
One of the happiest people Friday in the Frank Erwin Center will be a slender 6-1 player in burnt orange and white, just waiting to show her explosive skills on the court after a long layoff. That person is Texas sophomore forward Niqky Hughes, who has been cleared to play tonight for the first time this season.
With three surgeries within the past two years to repair a shoulder tear and then to combat pancreatitis, Hughes is well-acquainted with the time and pain associated with surgeries and rehab and is ready to put all that behind her when she takes the court against UT-Pan American.
Niqky, whose full name is Vantranique Tre Hughes, came to UT as a heralded high school recruit ranked as the fourth-best player in the state of Texas. She led her 31-5 Waxahachie High School squad to the Texas Class 4A as a senior and grabbed MVP honors in the process. As a Longhorn rookie last year, the high school Street and Smith All-American played in all 32 games with two starts and scored in double-figures three times.
Although Hughes has previously endured the rigors of surgery, her time spent in the hospital last semester for pancreatitis was different.
“This last surgery was a lot harder. It was a deeper, longer and more invasive surgery and I was in the hospital longer,” said Hughes. “I’ve been focusing on getting my muscles and stamina back. This was a harder comeback than the last couple of surgeries I had.”
It was during the spring of her senior year in high school when Hughes noticed something was not right. A piercing pain in her stomach after the state championship game is what caused Hughes to make the trip to the hospital to find out what was wrong.
“I had a pinching pain in my stomach and it was hard for me to eat with the pain,” Hughes explained. “We went to the hospital and they told me that I had pancreatitis, an inflammation and flare up of the pancreas.”
Since then, cyst scares and flare ups have been a concern and are part of her daily life. Hughes admits that her condition is a unique trait that not many college students her age share. Because of it, she has become more aware of her body and the signals it sends.
“I’ll always have on and off flare ups. That is just something I’ll always have to deal with,” said Hughes. “I just have to make sure that I eat healthy keep my blood sugars regulated and listen to my doctors and (athletic) trainers. I have to pay more attention to my diet than normal college students, so that’s a big lesson right there.”
The effects of the hospital stays and the need to pay more attention to her body have helped Hughes to mature.
“I really have matured more than where I was two years ago,” noted Hughes. “I’ve got to be more responsible for myself, and missing all this time with basketball has just made me a more determined person.”
“We’re certainly excited to get Niqky and her talents back into the lineup, and I know she is anxious to play again as well,” noted UT head coach Gail Goestenkors. “It’s been a long process for Niqky, but she’s worked very hard to get back to playing form. She had a great summer of preparation and worked hard on all aspects of her game. Once she gets acclimated, she will give us more depth and quickness and another good shooter.”
The time off may have served as a blessing in disguise for Hughes, since being sidelined and having to work out on her own has allowed her to pay more attention to her game.
“When everyone else has been playing and scouting and watching film to get ready for new teams, I’ve been working on my individual game,” said Niqky, an education major who was named to the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll last year. “The time away has helped me as a basketball player, since I’ve had time to work on a lot of the things I needed to work on, like my shooting and conditioning. Physically and emotionally, I’ve just had a lot of time to improve and have gained a lot by watching from the bench.”
Hughes is more determined than ever to get back into the swing of things for the 16th-ranked Longhorns.
“I haven’t had the privilege to play for Coach G (Goestenkors) yet, so I’m excited and ready to go,” said Hughes. “I just want to touch the floor. I haven’t touched the floor in a very long time at a competitive level. I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and contributing.”
With both her parents (Vance and LaSonya Hughes) having played sports in college, and a football-playing brother (Antwan Kirk-Hughes) who was a standout offensive guard for Texas, coupled with a youngest sister (Destini) who is a standout basketball player in her own right, Hughes’ athletic ability is in her blood. Getting back on the court will allow her to make a name for herself, something that she is more than ready to accomplish.
“I’ve had a lot of looking up to do to be like my parents, who always emphasize school and sports hand-in-hand,” noted Hughes. “My brother got all this fame at Texas and I want to follow him and make my own name in basketball and help us win championships. I’m just trying to make sure that my parents are proud.”
Friday night against UT-Pan American, Niqky makes that first step back onto the court and to what many believe is a bright and proud future with the Longhorn basketball program.