This game plus the Southern Utah victory earlier in the week marked the arrival of Helms as a major force on the UNLV roster. She was named Mountain West Player of the Week for the week of Nov. 24.
Helms was a Deer Valley Wolverine star a mere two years ago, recruited for what would be the final recruiting class for former head coach Regina Miller. As a freshman, she came off the bench for 27 games, averaging three points per game and a season high of nine.
After a dismal seven-win season, Coach Miller was replaced with current head coach Kathy Olivier, who decided to make Helms a major part of the team.
“When I first got the job, the rest of the staff and I got together and decided that we wanted to try and make Erica a leader,” said Olivier. “She organized a lot of things in the summer, and really took on that leadership role. I think it’s going to carry on through the season.”
Coach Olivier said she has high hopes that Erica’s career in college will be successful: “Right now it’s a little too early to tell how far she can take her career. She is very athletic, but I want to see if she can play at that higher level and sustain it.”
Helms has distinguished herself in recent conference play. She attained her career high in points (29) against Wyoming on Jan. 17 to break her team’s conference losing streak dating back to last year.
Helms is happy to be able to play for UNLV and enjoys attending school in Las Vegas. “The campus is small, and I like how the classes aren’t very big,” she said. “As for the team, I like playing in the Mountain West; it’s a tough conference, and I feel that UNLV is on the rise and I can make a difference on this team.”
As for her coach, Helms has nothing but the utmost respect for the new head coach and appreciates the change in atmosphere that Coach Olivier has brought to the Lady Rebels. “The vibe is more upbeat and more positive, and I feel like I’m playing better this year,” Helms said.
Besides basketball, Helms serves the community at the women’s center on campus during the off-season. Her academic standing at UNLV is strong, and she plans to major in psychology. “I love interacting with people,” she said, “and my friends always tell me that I give the best advice, so I wanted to go into counseling.”
A famous member of Helms’ family is cousin Maurice Jones-Drew, star running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was a big help in advising Erica on how to go about her college career. “He told me to go somewhere where I could just play and be happy. And when I told him I was going to UNLV, he completely supported me,” Helms said.
Outside college, Helms remains close to the people she knew in Antioch, and loves visiting her home town when she’s able to get away from school.
“I didn’t get to visit this summer, but I still am very close to my friends and family back home,” she said. “I keep in touch with the girls on the team this year. I give them advice, and this summer I should be able to go back and work with them.”
Ultimately, Helms still likes to have fun when she can, and works hard to motivate her teammates while still managing to average 11.4 points per game. Only time will tell if she’ll go on to become a force in the NCAA and possibly the WNBA, but with her work ethic, anything is possible.
Sean Jaramillo writes for the University of Nevada Las Vegas newspaper The Rebel Yell.