JIM PETERS: South Central's Tucker gets her senior moment

2014-02-12T17:00:00Z 2014-02-13T04:36:33Z JIM PETERS: South Central's Tucker gets her senior momentJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 12, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

Senior night is a special occasion for athletes, an opportunity to commemorate their playing careers.

Anyone fortunate enough to attend Saturday's South Central game with Boone Grove won't soon forget the last minute, a thoughtful gesture by two coaches to acknowledge a player at her final home game.

With about 45 seconds to go and the outcome not in doubt, S.C. coach Rick Budka called timeout. He looked over to Katelyn Tucker, a senior who had sustained a season-ending knee injury Jan. 31 at LaCrosse, and told her to check in.

"I went to (Boone coach) Linda (Eleftheri) before the game and told her what the situation was, if we had the opportunity to get her in, possibly shoot the ball, then let the crowd say thank you by pulling her back out," Budka said. "I told Katelyn, and she had a big smile on her face, like 'Really?!' She was on the bench, her good leg twitching like she was all nervous."

As Budka took his timeout, Eleftheri called her own to let her girls know what was going on.

"I just told them to stay away from her," Eleftheri said. "I didn't want anybody to run her over, to box her out. You fear they're going to go after the ball."

Budka suggested Tucker go near the basket for a layup, but his 3-point sharp-shooter would have none of it.

"Threes are my favorite," Tucker said. "I'm great at them. If I got a last shot, I wanted it to be a 3."

What followed was pure Hollywood, well, except for the shots. Standing unguarded at the arc, Tucker got three tries, only to miss them all, two of them drawing rim.

"She couldn't get any lift," Budka said.

Not that it mattered.

"It would've been nice to make a shot, but I was too grateful to really care," Tucker said. "I really appreciate the coaches and all the players letting me get in one last time. I loved it. It took my mind away from (my injury). It kept my spirits up, for sure."

As soon as Boone secured the rebound, South Central fouled and called timeout. Tucker left the floor to a standing ovation. Players hugged. There wasn't a dry eye in the gym.

"It was a really touching moment, (given) the time she's put into basketball," Budka said. "She was injured a lot last year and didn't get a lot of (playing) time. She worked hard in the summer. This might be her last opportunity to play any organized high school ball. She was just happy to be on the court."

The moment wasn't foreign to Eleftheri, whose son Sam missed his junior season at Boone with a torn ACL.

"It was priceless, something that stays with you forever," Eleftheri said. "I watched my son sitting there, watching everything going on around him night after night. It's a lot of emotions. You feel for her simply because it's her senior year. The kid loves the game. She's put her heart and soul into it. She's missing it. To see their seniors absolutely in tears and her on crutches, it touches your heart."

Budka was deeply appreciative that Eleftheri, in the midst of a two-win season, went along with the idea.

"I thought that was a very class act on the part of her and her program," he said. "I told Linda thank you very much during the game. I'd do the same thing."

How's this for irony? When Tucker's mom, Tammy, was in high school, she also had her senior season ended by a knee injury. Katelyn, who is going to the same doctor, will undergo arthroscopic surgery Feb. 26 to determine the extent of the damage. Also a standout softball player, she is holding out hope to make it back for the season.

Either way, she'll never forget senior night.

"If it was my last (sports) experience," she said. "I'm glad it was that."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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