South River's coach has learned that he can rely on Jaclyn Nucci in a pinch,

and her teammates know they can rely on her to lighten the mood

Having last laugh


February 07, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,Sun Reporter

With his Seahawks holding on to a one-point lead with 40 seconds left in a game earlier this season, South River girls basketball coach Dave Klingel called timeout to get hold of the situation.

There was no chalkboard needed, no complex play called?just a simple order.

The plan was for the Seahawks to spread the floor and get the ball to juniorforward Jaclyn Nucci.

Klingel asked her to hold the ball until there were 10 seconds left on theshot clock. "And then I said: ?Do what you do. We trust you ? go get it done.' "

Nucci drove to the basket, scored and got fouled. A few seconds later the Seahawks (11-7) were celebrating a threepointwin over Suitland.

?A lot of kids couldn?t handle that kind of pressure ? putting the whole team on her back like that,? Klingel said. ?As a coach, that makes me look good. But it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Jaclyn."

After scoring 13 points a game last season in a secondary role behind more experienced teammates, the 5-foot-9 Nucci has taken on many roles for the junior-laden Seahawks this year. She?s the only player to average in double figures in scoring (19.5), leads the team in rebounding at 9.1 per game and also dishes out 2.6 assists.

As for all the pressure, Nucci prefers to laugh it off.

Some of her funniest work comes before each game.

"In the locker room, I?ll just make some dumb jokes, goof around, and they always make fun of my voice, and it isn?t even that weird,? Nucci said. ?I try to be a leader for everybody else because I know some look up to me. I want to keep everybody in a good mood, and when people are nervous, I try to lighten things up."

Point guard Ashley Wagner, one of nine juniors on the Seahawks? roster, says Nucci is often funny without even trying, recalling a recent practice.

"It was getting toward the end of practice ? everybody was tired, and we were scrimmaging. Someone put up a shot and Jaclyn was going for the rebound when it came off and hit her right in the head. It just made the mood a lot lighter," Wagner said. "If our attitudes are fine and relaxed, we?re a better team than when we?re uptight. So she really helps make sure that everybody is loose."

Also the starting sweeper on the school?s varsity soccer team, Nucci has been around sports just about all herlife. While growing up, she played softball, tennis and golf, and still plays soccer as a way of staying in shape for her favorite sport, basketball.

"She always had a ball in her hand," said her father, Gio. "I can remember when she was around 4 years old, we were coming home from a long day and there she was, laying on the floor throwing a ball up in the air to the ceiling. She just always had a natural talent for sports." Klingel sees that from Nucci every day in practice and at games. He points out her uncanny ability to use the backboard to score points as a prime example.

"She's in the lane, falling down and throws up a shot off the backboard, and it goes in," Klingel said. "People say, 'Oh, that?s luck.' And if you watch that over one game you might think just that. But when you watch it over the course of 20 games?about where we're at now ? and at practice, you know it's all skill. She knows how to use the backboard, and it?s amazing how she gets up some shots and you?re like, ?Ohmy God! Thatwent in!' "

Nucci's versatility gives the Seahawks plenty of options in their half-court offense. If a bigger player is on her, she takes the ball to the perimeter where she can score from 15 feet or drive to the basket. If a smaller player is guarding her, she can post up.

"She can hit you a couple different ways,? Old Mill coach Craig White said. ?She can penetrate, has a soft touch insideand outside and, more importantly, she puts herself in position to get to the free-throw line. And she hits you for 32 minutes." And chances are, anybody who watches her play will see an occasional smile on her face. "Basketball is a big part of my life," Nucci said. "I came to high school and met a lot of good friends. Anytime I'm bored, I just go out and shoot baskets. I always feel like playing basketball."

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