Not two months removed from the hallways of T.C. Williams High School, former Titan girls basketball star Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is still racking up awards for her illustrious career.
Last Thursday, though, came a unique addition to her trophy case as well as an Alexandria honor that even the city’s vice mayor has yet to savor: In the same gym where she continually honed her game since first stepping onto the court at age 7, Ruffin-Pratt became the Cora Kelly Recreation Center’s first Hall of Fame inductee and found out that August 20, 2009 in Alexandria was officially Tierra Ruffin-Pratt Day.
“I was on City Council for 15 years mayor for seven years and they never made a day just for me,” said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, also a former T.C. athletic director, after presenting the City Council’s official proclamation.
Before Thursday, Ruffin-Pratt had already built a distinguished resume: A two-time state player of the year, two-time Washington Post All-Met player of the year, two-time PARADE first team All-American and MVP of McDonald’s high school All-America game.
She’s also the only female athlete at T.C. to have her jersey number, 4, retired.
The former four-year girls basketball captain, four-time Patriot District player of the year and T.C.’s all-time leading scorer (more than 2,400 points over her high school varsity career) will be continuing her career this fall as a first-year Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina.
Get her on the court with a basketball and Ruffin-Pratt is a force capable of changing games single-handedly. Throw a microphone and heaps of recognition into the mix and it’s an entirely different story. Asked to say a few words for the assembled crowd in the Cora Kelly gymnasium, she offered a humble “Thank you.”
“She didn’t even want to say anything, she’s so shy,” said Larry Brown, acting director of the center. “It’s like a personality change when she [steps onto the court]. It is. You don’t see that Tierra outside the court, but when she crosses that baseline it’s like Jekyll and Hyde.”
For the rec center staff, the challenge was deciding what to possibly get an athlete whose name has been on countless all-everything teams and been named Virginia’s best girl basketball player not just once but twice.
“First we wanted to get you a house, because nobody has gotten you a house,” said Brown, who’s worked with Ruffin-Pratt on and off over the years. “But we couldn’t afford to get you a house. So then we thought, ‘What is it that hasn’t happened to Tierra?’
“You’ve been such a special person to Cora Kelly, it had to be something special to the Cora Kelly Recreation Center,” Brown said.
But even with the honor chosen, time was running out. After a busy summer split between playing basketball, readying for college and enjoying her post-graduate
“time off,” Ruffin-Pratt headed to Chapel Hill for good on Saturday.
Ruffin-Pratt said that she’d already been to UNC earlier in the summer, came back for a couple of weeks before going to point guard camp for a week she expects to play some point guard as a Tar Heel and then came back again, this time with less than a week to make the rounds in Alexandria.
“There’s been a lot of working out, trying to see everyone because last week all of my friends went to college and I wanted to hang out with them before I went to camp,” she said after Thursday’s ceremony, which included speeches from several community leaders and multiple musical offerings.
At the root of the story, though, is a girl who wanted to play basketball. The Cora Kelly center provided just the neighborhood venue the future star needed.
“It was always a space that was available,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “Me and a couple of other players who I played with since like [age] 8 and under always came and practiced with me in the mornings and were always there when I needed them.”