It has been around a week since it happened, but Rod Rucker is still the buzz of state’s basketball world after shattering a backboard.
The 6-foot-5 Rucker became an instant YouTube sensation after dunking with such force in last weekend’s region tournament at The Inferno, where Elbert County High School plays its home games.
“Oh yes, our kids know all about it,” Columbia High coach Phil McCrary said. “That’s just so rare, to shatter a backboard. When something like that happens, word spreads quickly in the basketball community. Everybody knows about Rod Rucker.”
Rucker is more than a dunker, but it took his backboard-breaking maneuver to earn widespread acclaim outside of the tiny North Georgia town. He averages 24 points and 17 rebounds, making starts at every position on the court.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Elbert County coach Larry Brown said. “I’m not saying that just because I’m his coach. I’ve played some big-time basketball myself, and Rod can play with anybody.”
Brown is a former two-sport athlete at UGA, and played for three years in the NFL. While at Georgia, Brown was on the school’s basketball team with Shandon Anderson and Jumaine Jones — who both played in the NBA.
“Rucker reminds me a lot of Jones (first-round pick of the Hawks in the 1999 draft),” Brown said. “Rod has great jumping ability, can shoot the 3-pointer, and just goes nonstop. He’s a little stronger than Jumaine, and a little bit better of a ball-handler.”
Rucker has been the team’s best player since he stepped on the court for Elbert, leading the team in scoring as a freshman. However, halfway through his first season, he was dismissed because of academics. It was such a big blow to Rucker that he stopped caring about school during second semester.
“I didn’t have my head on straight,” Rucker said. “I didn’t handle it well.”
Later that spring, Brown left the Atlanta suburbs to take the job as Elbert’s new coach. He had heard all about the tall and lanky kid with the gift of basketball. Brown made sure Rucker enrolled in summer school, driving him to class on some days.
Under Brown, Elbert (25-2) will make its third straight appearance in the state playoffs this weekend. Last year as a junior, Rucker led the state in rebounding with 17 per game. This year, he scored 38 points against Cedar Shoals, including five 3-pointers.
“I don’t need to see Rod Rucker, keep that kid away,” joked McCrary, whose team eliminated Elbert in last year’s playoffs.
“That kid is an ACC/SEC type player. I don’t who is recruiting him, but if I was coaching in the ACC or SEC, he’d be my No. 1 target. He’s so active running the floor, he can handle the ball, and is a rebounding machine.
“Not only can he shoot from long range, but he’s also incorporated a mid-range jumper in his game — which is a lost art in basketball. He’s a very special player.”
Rucker has made tremendous progress in school, but his rough freshman year will likely require him to go to prep school or junior college next year. Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia State, and Minnesota are among the schools scouting Rucker.
Brown has been a role model for Rucker, and can relate to his early academic woes. Brown flunked a couple of classes during his freshman year at Georgia and was held out of basketball. However, he turned it around and has mentored Rucker about his own experiences.
“I don’t know where I’d be in life without Coach Brown,” Rucker said. “He’s a great man.”
Since the famous dunk, Rucker has added to his celebrity status around Elberton. “Yeah, everyone wants to talk about it,” he said. “People are always asking’ How did it feel?’ It felt great.”
There was 7:19 left in the second quarter against Mountain View when Rucker stole the ball at halfcourt and sprinted toward the basket. “I peaked behind me, and the defender was running hard at me,” Rucker said. “I thought the dude was going to (undercut) me, so that’s why I went so fast and hard to dunk.”
Rucker fell toward the floor with the rim in his hand, and then the glass went flying. The other Elbert players celebrated wildly, while Rucker — who was scared at first — cracked a smile. After an hour delay, the game was moved to Elbert County Middle School.
“It one of those things in sports that you don’t believe until you see it,” Brown said. “It’s one of the rarest of (accomplishments). Even when I watch on film now, I ask myself ‘Did that really happen?’”