As a star basketball player at Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky, Lexi Held never got the opportunity to play in Rupp Arena on the state’s biggest stage.
During Held’s time playing for Cooper — which she did for five seasons after playing up as an eighth-grader — the state tournament was played in Bowling Green at E. A. Diddle Arena and in Highland Heights at BB&T Arena, meaning that even if Cooper had reached the Sweet 16 from 2014 to 2018, Held wouldn’t have played inside the iconic basketball venue.
Held and her Cooper team were eliminated four times in the 33rd District Tournament and once in the 9th Region championship game during her high school playing career, but Held will finally get the chance this week to play in Rupp Arena.
Held, a senior guard, is part of the DePaul team (7-2 overall, 2-0 Big East) set to play a marquee non-conference game against No. 14 Kentucky (6-1 overall, 0-0 SEC) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Thursday’s game is one of two that the Kentucky women’s basketball team will play in Rupp Arena this season, along with a Jan. 23 Southeastern Conference contest against Ole Miss.
The fact that DePaul was one of the two Rupp Arena games slated for this season has a personal connection to Held beyond just geography.
Held’s sister, who is four years older than her, attended UK and as a result Held has spent plenty of time on the Lexington campus. Held has friends who currently attend Kentucky as well, and she remembers attending Big Blue Madness with her sister.
“There’s definitely a connection there. It’s not the closest to my house, but there are a lot of connections,” Held told the Herald-Leader. “I’ve been around Rupp and it’s going to be an exciting game being able to play in Rupp for sure.”
Held excelled at Cooper during the mid-2010s, scoring more than 2,000 points in her high school career and being named a Northern Kentucky Coaches Association Player of the Year.
She finished her time at Cooper with 2,430 points, 604 rebounds, 341 steals, 315 assists and 97 blocks, along with the school’s single-game scoring record of 36 points.
“I’ve been blessed with great coaches, great teammates and just being able to compete at such a high level,” Held said. “I just feel like I’m getting better every day and I’ve been lucky enough to be in a position with a lot of great people that have helped me out.”
Held has continued her success with the Blue Demons. She played in 32 games and led the team in three-point shooting percentage as a freshman, scoring in double figures 13 times as DePaul won the 2019 Big East Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament. Held was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team.
As a sophomore, Held started 32 of DePaul’s 33 games and scored in double-figures 25 times while being second in the Big East in three-pointers. She scored a career-high 31 points in DePaul’s Big East Tournament championship game victory over Marquette, just days before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States and the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
Last season as a junior, Held averaged 16.5 points per game and finished fifth in the nation in steals. She went over 1,000 points for her DePaul career, but the Blue Demons as a team had an uncharacteristically down season, finishing 14-10 overall. She contributed 12 points, five assists and four steals when DePaul beat Kentucky 86-82 last season in Chicago.
Through nine games this season, Held is fourth in scoring (13.3 points per game), second in steals (23) and first in assists (with a Big East-best 46) on the DePaul team. The Blue Demons have received votes in all editions of the Associated Press poll this season.
“I think we’re a basketball team that really pays attention to the details and when we do that we’re very good and we try and stay in the moment as much as possible,” Held said of DePaul’s continued success in women’s basketball.
A two-time All-Big East First Team selection, Held was the 2020-21 Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women’s basketball while majoring in marketing.
The soft-spoken Held also volunteers with Special Olympics among other charitable endeavors.
“I’ve just been lucky enough to have great experiences, so I always like to try and share that,” Held explained. “I know there’s a lot of less fortunate people out there (compared) to me, so I just try and do what I can as a person off the court to make them have a good day, whatever it is, even if it’s the smallest thing or something a little bit bigger.”
Another one of those great experiences for the talented Held will come Thursday night in Rupp Arena in front of family and friends, not to mention a prime opportunity for a signature win for the Blue Demons, who are currently projected as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“Anytime we play a ranked opponent, there’s always going to be a higher edge on. And then being able to come home and play in front of people that I care a lot about is always more fun,” Held said. “Being in Rupp Arena is a huge deal and I think it will be a really fun environment and it’s going to be a really good game. It’s definitely going to be exciting.”