GOOD HOPE —
When Kayla Tillman shoots, she tends to make a whole lot more than she misses.
So when Good Hope’s greatest 3-point shooter in school history signed a scholarship offer to play basketball for and attend Faulkner University on Friday afternoon, it’s no wonder she felt as if she had just hit nothing but net.
“This day is really exciting,” said Tillman, who made her commitment official by signing on the dotted line in front of a library filled to the brim with family, friends, teammates, administrators, and past, present and future coaches. “It’s just awesome I’m getting to go play basketball to another level and continue my playing career.”
The Times’ reigning Prep Girls Player of the Year said her final decision came down to Faulker and Martin Methodist (Tenn.), the same school former Raider standout Nina Mills will suit up for this winter. Tillman liked the thought of reuniting with a teammate she’d played with since middle school but ultimately felt she’d be more content blazing her own path.
The fact that the Eagles could do no wrong during the recruiting process probably didn’t hurt, either. Tillman said she enjoyed her visit to Faulkner’s “small, closed-in campus” and was blown away by how friendly everyone was.
“When I met all the coaches and players, they were the nicest people I’ve ever met,” she said. “I know I fit right in with them. I couldn’t ask for a better team to join.”
Eagle coach Reed Sutton was on hand Friday to welcome in his first signee for the 2013 class. He said he’s ectstatic to bring on a student-athlete who is so complete on and off the court.
“She’s a 4.0 student and comes from a good community with a great family,” he said. “So just as a person, we know we’re getting somebody that’s going to come in and be solid in the classroom.”
Don’t think for a second Sutton forgot about Tillman’s on-court abilities. He acknowledged that the Faulkner program is adding a sharp-shooter who can defend, doesn’t make many mistakes, is “deceptively athletic” and plays smart.
“We feel like she’s going to come right in and help us keep going what we’ve got going,” the coach said.
What the Eagles have going are back-to-back 20-10 seasons in their first two years as a program. Sutton said the team implements a fast-tempo offense that presses and runs on defense, which could provide Tillman with plenty of open looks. You can bet her new coach will let her take them, too.
“There’s no doubt she’s going to have the green light,” Sutton said. “We watched her over the summer, and we really feel like as a shooter, there are very few kids at any level that can shoot like she can.”
He added he believes Tillman can blossom during her four years at Faukner but said how much will really be up to her.
Those two must be reading out of the same playbook because the 2011 Second Team All-State selection already said she plans to use her last high school season “to get much better for next year.”
Tillman, who will enter the 2012 campaign with 1,527 career points, has already proven she’s pretty darn good, so why oh why does she still see room for improvement?
“When you go to college, it’s totally a whole different level of play,” she said. “You’re guarding people who are just as good as you every night. When you’re playing somebody at the same level as you, it makes it a lot harder.”
Having a scholarship in hand and a team to play for before her senior season begins was a priority for Tillman. Her current coach, Michael Oldacre, was on the same page.
“I’m glad that this is the second year we’ve done this well before the season started so she doesn’t have to worry about it,” he said. “She’s got that part taken care of. Now she can just come out and play basketball and enjoy her senior year.”
As her prep coach, Oldacre has been there to watch Tillman develop into a phenomenal player and equally exceptional young lady. He acknowledged her contributions to the Raiders’ back-to-back record-breaking seasons that have resulted in two straight trips to the state tournament.
“This is the result of a lot of hard work and a great attitude,” Oldacre said. “I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.