The public sees Rodney Stuckey as a brash basketball scorer, a top-100 national recruit as a shooting guard for the Kentwood High Conquerors. He led Kentwood to back-to-back South Puget Sound League North Division championships, a West Central District crown in 2003 and a school-best finish at the Class 4A state tournament last year,when the Conquerors placed third.
This year, Stuckey is back at what he does best - scoring and showcasing his remarkable talent - and is The News Tribune's All-Area player of the year for the 2003-04 season.
"He has a lot of Quincy (Wilder) in him, he can take over a game," said Lincoln boys coach Tim Kelly, comparing Stuckey to the Decatur High star of the mid-1990s. "He is so athletic, he is explosive and a great finisher. But he plays hard, too ... and that is what separates the very good players from the great players."
Stuckey is an Eastern Washington University signee, the gem of arguably the best recruiting class the Eagles ever have put together, a group that also includes South Kitsap's Jacob Beitinger, Eastlake's Nick Levi, James Lowe of Hillsboro, Ore., and Texas junior college player Deuce Smith.
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"He is a guy who can elevate our program another step," Eastern coach Ray Giacoletti said of the 6-foot-5 Stuckey, who averaged 27.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a game during the regular season.
Behind the scenes, Stuckey is a reserved teen just trying to survive the travails of life - so much, he asked for help from outside his family.
Last summer, when things at home were difficult, Stuckey approached Brent and Diane McElhinney about not only moving into their house, but becoming his guardians.
It was not a mean-spirited decision Stuckey made, but a life decision.
"I guess, sometimes me and my mom (Faye) were not getting along. It was me getting away from everything, living in a different environment," Stuckey said. "My mom has no problem with it. She lives five blocks down the street."
Stuckey, along with older brother, Ronnie, have known the McElhinneys for 2 1/2 years - ever since their son, Matt Taler, played on the Kentwood basketball team in 2001-02 as a senior.
"Matt and I were real close," Rodney Stuckey said.
Diane McElhinney knew of Stuckey's personal situation and offered a place to stay if he needed to get away. Last summer, Stuckey took her up on that offer, and asked to move in.
"I talked to my family, and everyone was 100-percent supportive," Diane said.
The family has two younger teens, including Jeremy, who is a junior at Kentwood. The Stuckey boys moved into the downstairs, and into the bedroom Taler used to live in before heading off to Pacific Lutheran University - where he plays soccer.
The change came at a critical time for Rodney Stuckey, who was about to embark on the basketball recruiting process. He needed a level-headed influence to help him sort out the pros and cons of making a college choice.
"(Diane) helped me out with that," Stuckey said. "We talked about it, and that is how I came to my pick. She came to my school to meet all the coaches."
Diane, a businesswoman, helped her son go through the process of choosing a college, and had the resources to help Stuckey analyze the non-basketball side of things.
"I think he has a real wonderful influence in his mother for the personal things in his life," Diane said. "But ... I am experienced with some things. I can go and talk to his counselor, talk to some of his coaches and find out different things."
In late October, Stuckey became Eastern's last commitment, and signed in the early signing period in November. Stuckey likely will not be vying for playing time at Eastern until the 2005-06 season.
"I could have gone to the Pac-10 if I wanted to," Stuckey said. "I thought Eastern was a good pick."
Last month, Stuckey celebrated his last home game as a Kentwood senior by having two women - Diane and Faye - on his arm for pregame introductions. He presented both with a bouquet of flowers.
"I was ... nervous because I'm not his mom, and I didn't want that to be awkward for anybody," Diane said. "We were on the bleachers, and Rodney came over with his big smile and made it perfect."
Stuckey knows he made the right decision, one that made his transition to college - and adult life - easier.
"Just having two people who care about you, it's good," Stuckey said. "(Diane) has been like another mom to me, takes care of me and helps me out when I need it. I love her to death, and I want to thank her for that."
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
RODNEY STUCKEY, Kentwood
COACH OF THE YEAR
RYAN HANSEN, Auburn
ALL-AREA FIRST TEAM
RODNEY STUCKEY Kentwood (4A)
Senior, guard, 6-5
Bio - Area's best player posted monster season (27.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.5 steals per game) and is known as a tireless worker and selfless teammate. Stuckey, the SPSL North co-MVP, is bound for Eastern Washington. He has a career scoring average of 20.4 ppg, and Kentwood is 66-12 in his three years as a starter.
Little-known fact - "I eat Lucky Charms before every game."
Mount Tahoma (4A)
Senior, guard, 6-0
Bio - Explosive guard and Narrows Bay MVP might have the best body control in the state. Not only does he possess highlight-reel moves, but Ward (21.1 points per game) represents the pulse of the Thunderbirds' attack. "I think his best position is the wing, but he puts a lot of pressure on bigger guards to defend him," Mount Tahoma coach Owen Chambers said. Ward is likely to go to a national junior college program.
Little-known fact - "I'm emotional."
Senior, guard, 6-3
Bio - The youngest of six basketball-playing siblings, this Stafford is a clutch performer who lives for the big shot, including a buzzer-beater in WCD quarterfinals to get Auburn its first state berth since 1997. The SPSL North co-MVP is a gym rat, averaging 21.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
Little-known fact - "I have the best parents in the world."
South Kitsap (4A)
Senior, center, 6-9
Bio - Beitinger wraps up a stellar career for the Wolves as a three-time all-Narrows Bridge post player. He was a McDonald's All-American nominee this season. He normally plays in the post, but do not be surprised if Beitinger (17 points, 11 rebounds per game) steps out for a few 3-point attempts. A heady player, he signed at Eastern Washington. South Kitsap clinched a spot at state for the fourth consecutive season with Beitinger as a starter.
Little-known fact - "I'm an honor-roll student (3.7 GPA)."
Junior, guard, 5-10
Bio - Certainly, some guards have better numbers than Sutton's 11.5 points, 5.8 assists per game, but he is the floor leader of the area's top team. Sutton, the SPSL South MVP, sliced his turnovers in half (from four to two a game), and his shot attempts are down.
Little-known fact - "I was born in the dirty South (St. Louis)."
Senior, guard, 6-5
Bio - The Vikings' do-everything player had his finest season (19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game), almost single-handedly leading Curtis to the district playoffs. Terry, the school's third all-time leading scorer, moved to point guard shortly after the season started and posted back-to-back triple-doubles.
Little-known fact - "I strive to succeed in all aspects of life."
MICHAEL LEWIS, Steilacoom, forward, 6-5, Sr.
NATE MENEFEE, Timberline, guard, 5-10, Sr.
TYLER NIXON, White River, forward, 6-4, Jr.
CHASE VAN CLEAVE, Rogers, guard, 6-2, Sr.
THOMAS WARD, Bellarmine, guard, 5-10, Sr.