No days off anytime soon for Ruffin-Pratt
Former T.C. Williams girls' basketball coach Jim Lewis hosted a horde of top women's college hoop coaches at the Alexandria, Va., high school last fall.
They came in droves to watch his star guard, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, during open gym.
Before leading them to the court, Lewis would tell the coaches that Ruffin-Pratt would be the first person in the gym.
"That happened 100 percent of the time," says Lewis, who's now an assistant coach with the WNBA's Indiana Fever.
This wasn't anything planned by Lewis or his star pupil to make her appear extra special for the visitors. Ruffin-Pratt didn't even know what time the coaches were coming. She was just doing what's been commonplace for her since age 6 -- practicing all aspects of her game in the hopes of becoming an elite basketball player.
Make no mistake, Ruffin-Pratt is already balling at a high level. The 6-foot senior guard is the Greater D.C. area's top player and is rated the nation's No. 9 recruit -- No. 1 among off-guards -- in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. She's garnered more accolades than most players her age could dream of, but it all rings hollow to Ruffin-Pratt if she doesn't use every opportunity she has to improve.
"It's not all natural talent," says Ruffin-Pratt, who was considering Duke, North Carolina, Rutgers and Virginia at press time. "It's hard work. You have to put in the practice time and make some sacrifices."
Even if it means you play basketball seven days a week, twice a day on weekends, and skip hanging out with friends. In high school, talented basketball players are generally concerned with the offensive end of the floor. Light up the scoreboard and you'll get the limelight.
But while Ruffin-Pratt puts up points in bunches, it's her tenacity on defense that sets her apart. With her strength and quickness, she can stay with smaller guards, quickly jump into passing lanes and also block shots in the lane.
"I'd be terrified if she was guarding me," says T.C. Williams first-year coach Cavanaugh Hagen, a former Division I college basketball player at Canisius College (N.Y.). "She puts it up to this level that you don't often see. It's fun to watch."
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"Sometimes you are going to have an off night offensively, but you can always do well defensively if you put in the work," Ruffin-Pratt explains. "On defense, you can't take any plays off. That's what wins games."
Ruffin-Pratt isn't too shabby on the offensive end either. She has the handle and speed to explode through the lane, while her improved 3-point shooting keeps defenses honest.
Last season, she averaged 27.2 points, 15.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game en route to being named a PARADE All-American, the Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year and The Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year.
"She plays like a young pro," says Lewis, who previously coached the Washington Mystics as well as Fordham and George Mason. "She's just a complete player."
Ruffin-Pratt wasted no time showing off a complete arsenal her freshman season. She finished the year averaging 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.0 blocks per game to cop All-Met second team honors from the Post. T.C. Williams advanced to the state quarterfinals, where the Titans fell to Manchester in overtime.
She was an All-Met first team selection as a sophomore after tallying 21.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 4.0 steals and 3.0 blocks per game to help lead the Titans to the Northern Region semifinals, where they lost to rival Edison.
Yes, the numbers are staggering, but Ruffin-Pratt's most important contribution to T.C. Williams can't be tabulated with a calculator. When the chips are down, she exhibits leadership and toughness that make her special.
Last year, T.C. Williams traveled to Edison for a regular season matchup. To say the game was highly anticipated is like calling Lil Wayne sort of popular.
The stands were so packed that some fans had to be turned away, while a number of Division I college coaches were among those in attendance. Edison featured two future college players in seniors Adria Crawford and Chasity Clayton, now at Georgetown and Florida State, respectively.
Halfway through the game, Ruffin-Pratt suffered a subluxation, or partial dislocation, of her right shoulder. Yet she told her coaches to leave her in, gutting it out as T.C. Williams prevailed, 58-48. Ruffin-Pratt finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and six steals in her first win over Edison.
"Every time she steps on the court, you know you're going to get 100 percent," Hagen says.
"She's as tough as they come," adds Lewis. Ruffin-Pratt's toughness was put to the test again at the end of last season. In a win over West Springfield in the district finals, she totaled a game-high 22 points but twice had a subluxation of her shoulder, this time the left one.
Much to her disappointment, Ruffin-Pratt had to miss the first round of the Northern Region playoffs. The Titans were upset by Robinson and finished the season 22-1.
Ruffin-Pratt is now healthy and wears a brace to help stabilize the shoulder, much like WNBA MVP Candace Parker. If anything, she's sick of talking about the injury. "It gets real annoying because random people ask me how my shoulder is," she says.
Win or lose, Ruffin-Pratt sets an example for the younger players on the team. A four-year captain - try finding many of those - Ruffin-Pratt is a solid student who's always there for her teammates.
"She's my role model as a player and as a student," sophomore wing Jasmine Norman says.
Regardless of the mounting accolades and admiration, don't expect Ruffin-Pratt to change. She's still going to be the first one in the gym.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.