Honey Returns Home

One of Hot Springs' most-decorated young athletes has returned home to lead her city toward its first college basketball championship.

Despite being the product of one of Mountain Pine's most prestigious sports families, basketball was not always on 19-year-old Imani Honey's radar.

Imani's basketball players card photo"Everyone in my family played basketball and because of that, I wasn't sure that I wanted to," Honey said. "I was more interested in cheerleading and gymnastics. Honestly, what got me interested in the game was my friends. I started playing in second grade just so that I could do an activity with my best friend and I've never looked back. Throughout the years, my favorite part of the game has always been the friends I've made along the way. I didn't even care if I was winning or losing-I was having fun-and I was having so much fun that I couldn't stop."

In ninth grade, Honey transferred from Mountain Pine to Hot Springs, where the young star flourished on the court. After capturing two state championship crowns as well as state finals MVP honors, few could match the dynasty that Honey and the Lady Trojans had created.

"Becoming a champion showed me that having that title gives you respect," Honey said. "There were so many schools that didn't respect what we were doing at Hot Springs High School. They would say we were good, but not good enough. But when we won the title, we finally started receiving the respect we deserved as a school and as a program."

Despite taking her team to the pinnacle of high school basketball, Honey considers her greatest achievements to be the ones that were earned in the classroom.

"Graduating high school with honors has been my greatest achievement so far," Honey said. "I was a member of National Honor Society and took my school work very seriously and it's something I still find important today."

After graduation, Honey attended Harding University in Searcy, but her journey to the next level was short-lived.

 "Harding was an amazing school, but it never felt like the right fit for me," Honey said. "When I felt like I needed a change, the first person I texted was Coach Moody. I told him how I felt, and he was there for me the whole time-trying to figure out what I could do and where I could go next to keep playing. Going through that with him made me realize that there's no one else I'd rather play for. Everything that he's done for me to help me over the years is what led me in this direction."

In a signing day ceremony last week, Honey officially joined Nighthawk Nation in hopes of bringing her hometown its first NJCAA championship.

"Being back in Hot Springs is exciting," Honey said.  "Seeing the progress that National Park College has made with its athletic programs and how the school is building a university atmosphere is something positive for our community right now. In high school, winning a state championship brought our community together. Being able to come back and support my hometown again and trying to lead the Nighthawks to a championship is something that I think will be really good for Hot Springs as a whole."

To stay in basketball shape over the last year, Honey has been seen honing her skills in familiar territory.

"To keep myself going, I work out with [Hot Springs World Class High School Coach Josh Smith] whenever I get in the gym and I make sure to scrimmage with the Hot Springs boys to stay in shape,' Honey said. "[The Nighthawk women] will start working out with Coach Moody in the next week or two and I'm really excited to get to work."

In her first season at National Park College, Honey is expected to assume a leadership role for the Nighthawk women and plans to be a role model on and off the court.

"It's hard to have a good team without leadership," Honey said.  "At the end of the day, it's not about how good you are or who scores the most points. If you can be a Imani taking a shot against her opponentsgood leader on and off the floor and help your teammates get better, you have a great shot at winning a title. By the end of this season, I want to be an NJCAA All-American and make the Division II All Region Team, but more importantly, I want to help each of my teammates make it to the next level."

For Honey, her homecoming is about more than just basketball, it's about building her future.

 "Off the court, my biggest goal will be to have a high GPA," Honey said. "I'm going to major in business management. I currently work for Best Buy and I love what I do. My job has inspired me to work in technology and I'm excited for what National Park College has in store for me."

Honey's passion for the game is driven by the lessons she's  learned from the ones who helped mold her into the individual she is today.

"Every grandparent that I've ever had has contributed to raising me into the woman I am today," Honey said. "They always were the ones who pushed me to be my best. Unfortunately, many of them have passed away, but I continue living my dream for them. I can never thank them enough for what they've done for me."

As a role model for female athletes across Arkansas, Honey challenges the next generation of women's basketball stars to go above and beyond.

"I'm just a girl from a small town that is trying to live out her dreams and make her family very proud of her," Honey said. "With that in mind, don't be like me-be better than me. I wish more people would have told me to stop thinking about what other people think of me. You don't have to go to a Division I or Division II school to play at the next level. There's plenty of options out there and any option that pays for your education is one that you should take."