JUMP Opelika vs. Dothan girls Class 6A Regional Finals

Opelika's Ananda Hughley (22) prepares to shoot the ball over Dothan's Aukenviah Wilson (10) during the Opelika vs. Dothan girls Class 6A Regional Finals at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery on Feb. 18.

During her high school career, Opelika basketball player Ananda Hughley established herself as someone who would make the big play when it was absolutely necessary. Thanks to her success with the Lady Bulldogs, Hughley has secured a chance to play at the next level.

Hughley officially signed to play basketball at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham on Sunday. Her decision caps off an impressive high school run during which the 5-foot-9 guard was a crucial player in an Opelika program that reached the Class 6A state semifinals three years in a row and played for the state title in 2019.

Due to the pandemic, Hughley signed alongside family at her home rather than doing so at the high school. Even with the unusual setup, she was all smiles after finally realizing a lifelong goal.

“It was exciting. I felt like I was one step closer to being able to pursue a dream that I’ve had for the longest,” Hughley said. “(Lawson State’s) coaching staff is really friendly. The way they play is kind of similar to how we played in high school. That’s what really drew me to them.

“It was exciting. I was just smiling the whole time.”

Hughley was a stellar player throughout her four-year run with the Lady Bulldogs, and she didn’t let up as a senior, either.

Hughley didn’t let lingering injuries slow her down during the 2019-2020 season, and her efforts throughout were crucial as Opelika put together another deep playoff run. As one of several important seniors on the team, Hughley averaged a team-high 12 points along with 5.1 rebounds per game to help Opelika win 27 games and once again get to Birmingham.

Hughley’s play earned her All-Area first team and All-State third team honors in her final season.

For Opelika coach Devin Booth, Hughley quickly proved to be a player that she knew would give it her all every time she touched the court.

“I think Ananda is that gritty player that you have to have on the court that’s willing to step up and make a big play. She’s a great shooter. She can also get to the basket. She just really gives you that grit,” Booth said. “With Ananda, they’re getting a kid that is the same every day in practice and in games. You know without a doubt what she’s going to bring to the court. What she brings during practice and in games is just 110 percent effort. That’s why she excels on the court: because of her work ethic and the way she practices.

“I can’t wait to see what the future holds. I know there are going to be some big things for her, and I’m excited to see that.”

Hughley credited Opelika for getting her ready academically and athletically for the challenges that await at the next level, and she thanked Booth as well as assistant coach Allison Gregory for the ways they helped her improve. Hughley explained watching the program get better during her time as a player was special, and she’s eager to see it continue in the years to come.

Hughley said she’s most looking forward to playing at Lawson State and seeing what role the coaches have for her on the squad. She’s stayed busy during the pandemic through training drills, but she’s eager to actually return to the hardwood as she turns her attention to the next level.

“It’s been a while since I’ve actually played competitively. Once I get back in that groove, I’m going to be really excited to be back on the court,” Hughley said. “It’s really just a dream come true, just signing and being able to go to college next year.”

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