By Matt Larsen
They may not be the most nutritious breakfasts ever, but the Lady Bears’ strength coach and nutritionist sat pleased as long as the team’s off-season breakfasts at Penland came with a dash of health-consideration and plenty of good times.
“Obviously, the goal of me eating with them was so we could discuss nutrition,” Jeremy Heffner, Director of Athletic Performance for Women’s Basketball said of the regular breakfasts in Penland last fall that the Lady Bears were required to attend.
“My whole philosophy on it is, you can’t make somebody eat something, at least not on a consistent basis,” Heffner said. “I can cultivate their eating habits by spending time with them and making suggestions. What I want to develop is habits for a lifetime.”
So, in place of strict dietary measures, Heffner encouraged healthy doses of both pancakes and laughter to start off the morning while taking on any questions that came his way.
“He probably just laughs at what we eat half the time,” senior guard Melissa Jones said. “He is almost is like a walking encyclopedia when it comes to nutrition.”
Because the long season and early morning hours blurred most of the camaraderie together, Heffner doesn’t recall too many particular conversations.
But if particular conversations have drifted into obscurity, particular meals have not.
Heffner figured about 90 percent of the girls always chose omelets from Miss Dee.
“I had a few girls who were strict carnivores. Brittney Griner being one of them,” he said. “So she always had bacon on her plate.”
The All-American post was far from the only standout when it came to food choice though.
“Lindsay Palmer devours strawberries, by the pound,” Heffner said.
Palmer, a junior from Tulsa, didn’t mention her own liking for strawberries but was quick to call out Jones.
“Melissa is obsessed with breakfast burritos,” Palmer said.
Sophomore forward Mariah Chandler chimed her agreement to Jones’ obsession.
The Atlanta native recalls a time when Jones discovered her class that usually follows breakfast was cancelled and stuck around for a few more plates.
“She had two breakfast burritos, two omelets, two plates of fruit, and a whole bunch of cups of water,” Chandler recalls. “I am sure she had some pancakes in there too.”
As to the incident, Jones didn’t deny it but refused to take too much of the Penland spotlight.
“Lindsay can pack it down too,” Jones said. “If you ask anybody on the team, she eats the most. Mariah, she is sneaky too. While she is waiting in line she is eating so it doesn’t seem like she is eating as much while we’re at the table.”
Though quick to point the finger about who eats the most, the trio couldn’t agree more about the one who prepares most of their morning meals.
“Got to get Mama Dee’s omelets,” Palmer said.
Chandler’s omelet orders came with a question from Miss Dee about how her mom was doing. Chandler’s biological mother and Baylor mother struck a chord when the two were introduced during Mrs. Chandler’s visit last year.
Chandler as well as Jones noted Miss Dee’s desire to pray for them about anything going on in their lives.
Jones, however, especially values Miss Dee’s ability to recall everyone’s order by just seeing their faces and her consistent response to life.
“Mama Dee, everyday when you asked her how she is doing, her response is always, ‘I’m blessed,” Jones said. “That just speaks volumes because no matter how good of a day she was having or how bad of a day, she still made it a point to say she is blessed.”
Whether it be a secret ingredient in Mama Dee’s omelets or just the chance to interact off the court, Palmer and company agree that Penland breakfasts helped pave the way for a solid 2010-2011 season.
“I would assume any time you spend with every one where you’re talking outside of a basketball setting would help [build chemistry],” she said. “Eating a meal is a much more relaxed setting. No one is fighting for a position. You’re just… eating.”