A Grand Saline native has taken the reins of the Quitman Lady Bulldog basketball program. Amanda Rucker, 24 and a 2011 graduate of Grand Saline High School has hit the ground running in her efforts to lay a foundation for a revived girls basketball program at Quitman.
She’s taking on a program which has struggled in the past few years and prior to this year, had won just 10 games in two years and is coming off a 4-23 season last year while going 1-13 in district play.
After spending last year as an assistant at Van, Rucker was named Quitman head coach this year.
“I feel like I was fortunate to come to Quitman and be the head coach. I have always had a lot of respect for Quitman while competing against them in past years. I wanted to coach in a small town like I grew up in and Quitman is a great place to be,” Rucker said. “Once I interviewed with Coach Oakes (Bryan), I really wanted the job. Coach Oakes is an athletic director who actually cares about the entire athletic program. He is very supportive of girl’s athletics. He has come by to our practices and it means a lot to the girls that he cares about them too. So many times, you see programs that are only about football, but in Quitman, all sports are important.”
Rucker started playing basketball at a young age.
“I actually played Little Dribblers at Martin’s Mill because at that time Grand Saline did not have a program. I played for and learned so much about the game from my dad, Thomas Rucker, who coached me in Little Dribblers and select ball,” Rucker explained. “I love basketball and all I have ever wanted to do was play the game and coach it.”
Rucker comes to Quitman with impressive credentials. As a player in high school, Rucker made All District all four years of high school and was a Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC) All state player her senior year. She also played volleyball, golf, ran track and was the head cheerleader.
After graduation from Grand Saline, Rucker was recruited by Lane Lloyd of East Texas Baptist University (ETBU) while playing in the Azaela All Star game in Tyler. She played for Loyd one year and then Coach Dustin Howard in her remaining three years at the collegiate level. At ETBU, Rucker was named to the All Conference Freshmen team, and was chosen All Conference her junior and senior years. ETBU competes in the NCAA Division III American Southwest Conference.
“Basketball is what I love and working with kids has always been what I feel is my mission and my calling. If I can help young women in their life through basketball I have done my job,” Rucker noted.
Rucker teaches physical education at the middle school level and also spends part of each day at the District Alternative Education Placement (DAEP) classroom.
Rucker likes being close to her East Texas roots as well.
“I have a little brother in the eighth grade and I didn’t want to get too far away from him. I also wanted to be where I could be a head coach in basketball,” Rucker admitted. “The transition from college basketball life to normal life has been difficult for me because that is all I had ever done. I wanted to find a place I could really call home and when this job opened up I was excited. Quitman was always good competition and it was fun to play them. I have always had a lot of respect for Quitman. I feel like I have found the best job for me.”
Rucker likes coming to work each day. “Here at Quitman, it is the ultimate family atmosphere. I get up in the morning and love to come to work every day,” Rucker said. “My favorite thing about coaching is getting to know my team. I want them to know I care about them not only in basketball, but in their school work, their social life, their family life, and whatever I can do to help them in life. It’s my way to give back for all the things I have in my life.”
Rucker enjoys the teaching part of coaching the most.
“One thing I have learned about coaching girls is the more you don’t tell them, the more they wonder and then their minds start to wonder. I try to be very thorough in what I tell them. I want them to understand why we play the game the way I want them to play it,” Rucker added. “I try to give my players as much insight into the game as I can. They are learning about basketball as they play. They continue to learn more about the game each time on the court.”
She believes Quitman is a good situation. “They are the most well-behaved girls I have ever been around. They want to please me and they work their tails off every day, they really do,” Rucker remarked.
“We have some girls out who have not played at this level. Madalyn Spears has not played in three years and she is our leading scorer. We are very young with three freshmen, two sophomores, four juniors and just one senior, Molly Tanner. That’s why we are chaotic at times. They are learning how to play the game and play together. Molly is our leader and she lives the life of a leader and is the most coachable girl I have ever been around.”
Rucker also didn’t shy away from having the team playing a tough schedule. “I am very ambitious and I know we have played some really good teams, bigger schools and some state-ranked. I told them, you will live to tell about it and we will be a better basketball team in the long run,” Rucker said. “I’m glad how this team does not give up, they don’t lay down and quit. I want the girls on my team to see court time. The only way to get better is to keep playing.”
Rucker is looking forward to the rest of the district slate when Christmas break is over. “Alba-Golden, Edgewood and Mineola are all playoff caliber teams. There will be a fight for that fourth playoff spot,” Rucker said. “The rest of us have potential, but it is just a matter of which one steps up out of the crowd.”
The Lady Bulldogs host Como-Pickton This Friday at 2 p.m. before returning to district play Jan. 2 at home against Eustace.