The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
ort Arthur Memorial senior Roderic Rucker is a smart enough young man to know the human heart can experience both positive and negative emotions.
He has felt positive emotions plenty of times in his athletic career as a standout wide receiver in football and a key cog in basketball. One of the most recent times was this past Friday when Memorial defeated Clear Lake, 66-63, in overtime to advance to tonight’s regional quarterfinals matchup versus Fort Bend Bush.
Rucker has also seen his share of disappointments. He has never finished a sporting year off on a team that was the state’s best. Earlier than expected playoff exits in football the past two seasons, and in basketball a year ago, are moments that linger with Rucker as much as the great times.
Tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game at Barbers Hill High School against the 28-4 Falcons will be an important night for Rucker and his teammates.
“We don’t want to have that terrible feeling in our hearts like when last year ended,” Rucker said. “Your heart really hurts when the season ends with a loss. I remember that feeling clearly. You have a bad feeling in your chest that you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. That can’t happen again.”
Memorial’s Titans enter the game at 25-7 and on a six-game winning streak.
Bush, meanwhile, has not lost since Jan. 10 when the Broncos feel to Fort Bend Travis, 43-37. Bush is on an 11-game winning streak and is coached by someone Memorial Coach Travis Williams called a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Ronnie Courtney has won three state championships as a head coach, his last coming in 2010 with the Broncos. His first two were in 2000 and 2001 at Willowridge High School. He even coached in the NCAA Tournament with Texas Southern University in 2003.
The Titans are looking to give Courtney high school loss No. 35 in his five years at Bush. His overall high school record is 376-154.
“That guy will be in the Hall of Fame,” Williams said. “I promise you they will be a well-coached team.”
Do not get Williams wrong, he believes his team has the chance to be the ones to win on Tuesday. These Titans are used to playing well-coached teams by guys who have the name to back up the play on the court. This past Friday, Memorial dispatched a Clear Lake team coached by Tommy Penders, son of Tom Penders. Tom Penders coached Texas from 1988-1998 and last coached at the University of Houston.
“Port Arthur Memorial has never been to the regional tournament in basketball,” Williams said. “Let’s make history. Our main tone all year has been one day at a time, one game at a time. We have been going since Oct. 26. That is four months. We don’t want this ride to end.”
There are two obvious great coaching decisions being made by Williams these days.
The first starts with the fact his practice have been trimmed to 75 minutes.
“We want fresh legs,” Williams said. “If I get over that time, one of my assistant coaches yells out the time and we stop. It isn’t the kids who call out because those guys will go forever, but my coaches know the philosophy.”
The second key is the importance Williams and his staff have put on free throw shooting.
That emphasis came up big Friday against Clear Lake as Memorial went 10-for-12 from the charity stripe in overtime to secure the victory.
How important is free throw shooting?
Williams only raised his voice once at Titans practice Monday and it was to remind his players what they did at the foul line against the Falcons.
If the Titans had done any worse, there would not have been a practice on Monday.
“We are going to have to keep playing strong defense,” Williams said. “We are playing very unselfish basketball right now. Everyone is looking to make the extra pass to find the open man. That has been huge. Tuesday we are going to have to block out and grab the boards and we cannot turn the ball over against this team.”
It might sound like a lot to ask of his players but Rucker and Co. know it actually all comes from being relaxed on the court.
“We are going to come out and give everything we have for 32 minutes,” Rucker said. “It is great to be in this position but now we want to make a little history. This is as far as any Memorial has been since 2009. We are going to stay loose and go out and play some basketball.”
Like Rucker mentioned, the Titans are only 32 minutes away from making Memorial history.