By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL/Designated Writers

For someone who had a career full of highlights, you’d think it would be easy for Alana Beard to choose one.

Think again.

WNBA Champion?

Two Final Four appearances?

Four-time WNBA All-Star?

School scoring record at Duke University?

No. 2 pick in the WNBA draft?

“That’s a tough question,” said Beard, who will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame this weekend in Natchitoches.

“It’s impossible to pinpoint just one highlight because all of those have led to this moment,” Beard said. “But my high school career (at Southwood) was my foundation. The fact that we were capable of winning four state championships in a row during that span, that would be it. That was the beginning of everything else.”

The “everything else” part of it is quite substantial, because even though her playing career is over, a new career has begun. Once her amazing basketball career ended, she has continued to make her mark as founder and president of the 318 Foundation, established to help close the opportunity gap for high school girls in underserved communities.

The program, anchored by the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, has been piloted in Shreveport and then being implemented in other locations.

Beard spent five months in 2019 in Shreveport and took it upon herself to organizing meetings with political, civic and school leaders. “I wanted to see just what was needed in Shreveport,” she said. “I’ve always been adamant about building something in Shreveport for Shreveport and I didn’t want to just let my name to something.”

Beard and Southwood set the standard for high school basketball in this area, but it came from humble beginnings. “Today’s players have so much access to skills trainers and are always evolving,” Beard said. “I was out in my backyard practicing on a dirt court. I was very fortunate to have a coach like Steve McDowell. He laid the foundation for me and gave me the skills and values that go along with being a champion in this sport.”

“She was always the first one there to practice and the last to leave,” McDowell said. “She wanted to be the very best she could be. She had such a will to win.”

Beard did plenty of it. She went on to play at Duke and became the only player in NCAA history to score 2,600 points with 500 assists and 400 steals. In 2004, she won the Wade Trophy, given to the Outstanding Player in women’s college basketball.

She began her pro career with the Washington Mystics but injuries forced her to miss two complete seasons. In 2012, she returned to play for the Los Angeles Sparks and was part of the 2016 team that won the WNBA title.

Beard retired – “probably a year too late,” she said – in 2019.

“People always say that they didn’t envision themselves being what they turned out to be, but I did,” Beard said. “Because I know the amount of work I put into it. I knew what my goals were. I trusted myself and the people I put around me. I’m grateful for everything I’ve been able to accomplish, but I also envisioned it from the get-go.

“My professional career was rewarding,” she said. “That’s the pinnacle for women’s sports. But on top of that, I was able to build relationships that I value more than anything.”

Women’s basketball certainly evolved during Beard’s career. “What I notice more than anything these days is that these women are taking ownership of who they are and to really see themselves as a business,” she said. “When you do that, you take more stake in everything else that goes in it. The way that you eat. The way that you work out. The way you present yourself on the court. And the way you present yourself off the court.”

That’s why for those in the 318 Foundation, it doesn’t matter if a student has ever shot a basketball. “We have some life-changing experiences for young girls,” Beard said. “We had two young women, who had never been out of Shreveport, in (Washington) D.C. last week at a leadership camp.”

All of the success Alana Beard has had circles back to those days practicing on that backyard dirt court and her career at Southwood.

“Shreveport raised me,” Beard said. “Shreveport is why I am who I am. I think a lot of people who are raised here go out and gain all of those experience in the world and don’t return. I’ve always wanted to be different in that sense. I’ve acquired a lot of experience over the last 20 years. What better way to share that than in the community that raised you?”

This feature first appeared in the Shreveport-Bossier Journal