Local prep stars lead Shelton State to Division I title

By Staff
Mike Self, Franklin County Times
Lauren Tucker was a freshman reserve on Red Bay's 2002-03 team that lost to Pisgah in the Class 2A state finals.
As a senior, Quinetta Phillips led Russellville on a surprising postseason run that ended with a loss to Fairfield in the Class 5A Northwest Regional semifinals.
Years later, the combined efforts of Tucker and Phillips have helped the two former Franklin County stars achieve a goal that eluded them in high school: A state championship.
Tucker and Phillips both play key roles for Shelton State Community College, which defeated Wallace-Hanceville 94-83 on March 7 to win their second straight ACCC Division I title and earn a berth in the national tournament.
Shelton (30-2), a No. 7 seed, will face No. 10 seed Salt Lake City (UT) on Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Salina, Kansas.
Phillips, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, ranks 11th in Division I with 1.2 blocks per game and provides Shelton State with tremendous leadership.
"Quinetta is our team captain. She is one of the best kids I've been associated with in my coaching career," head coach Madonna Thompson said. "She's a very well-rounded individual, and she's what I like to call a low-maintenance player. She's going to graduate, and she's done an excellent job in the classroom. She's just a great kid."
Phillips was the Franklin County Times Player of the Year as a senior at Russellville, and her positive attitude and reliability have definitely made an impression at Shelton State.
"Quinetta has meant so much to our basketball team," Thompson said. "In two years, I don't think she's missed a single practice or a meeting because of injury or any other reason. She's one of those kids that make me wish this was a four-year school so I could keep her for two more years.
"On top of all that, she's a very good basketball player, too. And she's 6-foot-4, which doesn't hurt either."
Thompson recruited Tucker, a freshman guard, for her shooting ability, and the former Red Bay standout has delivered. Tucker was the most accurate three-point shooter in the ACCC's Division I this season, making 42 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc, and her 40 threes are third-most on the team that leads the nation in scoring at 92 points per game.
"Lauren is just a pure shooter," Thompson said. "She can knock down shots, and if you leave her open that's exactly what she's going to do. She's a very hard worker, and she's tough on herself. She's the kind of player who gets to practice a little bit early and then hangs around after it's over to get a few extra shots in. She's just a deadly shooter."
Tucker has made at least three treys in a game on five separate occasions this year, including a season-high five against Gadsden State on February 2. She's also impressed Thompson with her work ethic on and off the court.
"Lauren's a great kid, too," Thompson said. "I think she had the highest GPA on the team in the fall. She's done extremely well in the classroom, and she's just a well-balanced young lady."
Phillips and Tucker will now turn their attention to helping Shelton State improve on last season's 11th-place finish at the national tournament.
"It feels good to win the state championship again," Phillips said. "Everybody's excited about going back to the national tournament. This time, we have a better idea of what to expect."
Thompson said that last year's experience, as well as a much better seed, should help her team stick around a little longer in the double-elimination tournament.
"All eight of our sophomores went with us last year to the national tournament, and that should help us," she said. "We've also got a much better seed this time. Last year we were the No. 14 seed and we had to play the No. 3 team in the country right off the bat.
"It was nice to finally get some respect and get a decent seed this year. Typically, for whatever reason, teams from Alabama tend to be seeded low, usually No. 14, 15 or 16. Getting a No. 7 seed this time and being able to play somebody seeded lower than us should help."
Shelton State figures to be a tough out, given their relentless style of play. They prefer to play at a breakneck pace and lead Division I in steals (16.4 per game), assists (21.3) and scoring margin (35.4).
"That's our style. We come out playing full-court man-to-man, and we like to get it and go," Thompson said. "It's fun to watch, and it's fun to play. Fortunately, we have 13 girls and we're able to move them in and out of the game pretty fast to keep everybody rested. We don't have anybody complaining about playing time. With the way we play, after three or four minutes on the floor they're usually ready to come out."
Tucker said the speed of the game took some getting used to.
"It was different. I had to adjust to getting my shot off a little quicker, because the game is so much faster," she said. "I put in a lot of hard work over the summer. You have to be in great shape to play the way we do, and I think we all are."
Tucker made the trip to the national tournament last year to watch Shelton State play, and now she's going back-this time in uniform.
"Anytime you get to play for a championship on any level, it's exciting," Tucker said.