Hailey Tucker can whip up quite a dish of jambalaya. She enjoys cooking and that is one her favorites, one that teammates and friends have enjoyed.
When it comes to a pregame meal, though, superstition dictates that she must have a sandwich from Subway. Not just any sandwich will do. Rather, it must be ham, loaded with veggies and accompanied by ranch dressing. A toasted roll would be flagrant foul, so keep it untoasted.
Tucker has toasted quite a few opponents in her young career at Southwestern Oklahoma State. The 6-2 sophomore guard led the Great American Conference in scoring (18.8 points) and rebounds (9.8) through the Bulldogs’ first 16 games.
While the sandwiches might be helping, Bailey felt she needed to bulk up heading into this season. She was in the weight room at 6 a.m. virtually every day last summer and feels that her time and effort with the barbells has paid off.
“I put on, probably, 15-20 pounds,” she said. “Whenever I would drive (the lane) last year, as a tiny little freshman trying to go up against bigger girls, it just didn’t work.”
That might be the only that did not work. Last season when SWOSU went to the conference championship, where they lost to Arkansas Tech, who they will play Saturday on ASN, Bailey was a driving force as a freshman.
Tucker led a senior-laden team in scoring (15.4) and was second in rebounds (5.7) and blocks (1.4). Her effort resulted in being named the GAC freshman of the year and a first-team all-conference selection.
“I was really proud of myself,” said the native of Bartlesville, Okla., about a 45-minute drive north of Tulsa. “Of course, you have to have teammates that help you achieve that success. My coaches have put me in position to succeed and I am really thankful for that.”
Basketball has always been Tucker’s sport and has been a big fan of Larry Bird since she was a young girl.
“I was always friends with the boys and any time they came over to hang out they would be like, ‘Why do you have a poster of Larry Bird on your wall?’” she said while laughing at the memory.
That was a good question given the Boston Celtics’ Hall of Famer retired a few years before Tucker was born. Tucker’s mother, Deirdre Ward, had some influence.
“My mom always told me that she wanted me to play like him and to incorporate some of his moves,” she said of the mother who coached Tucker for many years starting in the second grade. “I tried, but there is no way to be like Larry Bird because he had his own thing going on.”
Tucker had quite a thing going on at Bartlesville High School where she was twice a nominee for Oklahoma’s Gatorade player of the year. She is the school’s all-time leading scorer and capped her career by averaging 23.7 points as a senior.
Many schools were quick to express their interest. She received an offer from Oklahoma State, but waited too long to close the deal. Washington, New Mexico, Utah State and East Carolina were among others that wanted her. As Tucker was getting ready to visit Utah State she applied the brakes and went another direction
“I was getting ready to go on that visit and I thought, ‘You know what? This is not for me,” she recalled. “I do not want to go play DI. I want to be somewhere where I know I am going to produce my freshman year. So I went on my visit to Southwestern and I thought that this was where I needed to be. Everything clicked.”
Coach Kelsi Musick could not believe her good fortune that Tucker decided to remain within Oklahoma’s borders to play at the Division II level.
“I was ecstatic to get that caliber of player to stay home,” said Musick, who has led the Bulldogs to a pair of NCAA appearances since taking over the program in 2009-10. “I like the fact Hailey was very responsive to our recruiting, the fact we have an established program and that she could come here and make a name for herself at the Division II level. I like the fact she embraced it and has taken it to heart. She is one of the top Division II players, by far.”
On a team with only one senior Tucker is developing into a leader beyond the stat sheet. She is a leader on a young team, one that has aspirations of returning to the conference title game and winning it this time.
“I have always tried to put myself in the position of being a leader,” she said. “We had several seniors last year to fill the leadership role. I have been trying to my best this year to step up and really take on that role.”
Regardless or role, or roll, stepping up is something Tucker has done plenty of so far at SWOSU.
Tom Layberger is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa. Follow him on Twitter at @TomLay810.