New Hope's Rudd is Lucky and good

With a combination of athleticism and hard work, Lucky Rudd has helped keep New Hope Christian Academy undefeated this season. Courtesy of Delaney Rudd

Kiana Rudd was born Lucky.

There are many reasons why this is so, including the fact that the 5-foot-9 sophomore shooting guard at New Hope Christian (Thomasville, N.C.) has loving parents, Janese and Delaney, the latter of whom played for four years in the NBA.

But the real story behind Lucky's nickname occurred when she was born so quickly.

"It was 3 a.m., and we barely made it to the hospital in time," Janese said. "There wasn't even time to get me to the delivery room. I had her in the admissions office."

Delaney, who was in France playing pro basketball at the time, said the youngest of the couple's three daughters "was lucky she wasn't born in the car."

The moniker stuck, and Lucky doesn't even use her given name.

"I don't think I look like a Kiana," said the 16-year-old Lucky, who already has scholarship offers from North Carolina State, Georgetown, East Carolina, Princeton and her dad's alma mater, Wake Forest. "Lucky is all I know myself as."

Lucky, who is averaging 8.4 points on a 27-0 team that already has three players committed to Division I colleges, is happy with her nickname.

The only thing she doesn't like is when anyone tries to make the connection between Lucky and luck. She proudly points out that she has worked hard to get her game right.

"When I make a shot, it's not because my name is Lucky," she said. "Just like when Sarah makes a shot, it's not because of her name. It's because she took her time and made the shot."

Delaney Rudd, in his third year as New Hope's coach, said he believes he has at least seven Division I players on this year's roster, including underclassmen.

Three seniors -- 6-4 forward Kristina King to West Virginia, 6-5 center Akela Maize to North Carolina State and 5-6 point guard Katherine Harris to High Point -- already have signed.

As an independent, New Hope, which is ranked eighth in the espnW 25 Power Rankings, doesn't play for state titles.

Instead, the Phoenix play a national schedule and have already traveled for games in Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina.

They hope to compete for the National Association of Christian Athletes Championship, which will be held in Dayton, Tenn., from Feb. 28 to March 2.

"I really like the fact that we can do things nationally," said Delaney, whose team went 28-6 his first year and 34-2 last season. "If we played for state titles, we couldn't do that."

Delaney mentioned, for example, a game New Hope played last season against Norcross (Ga.), which featured current North Carolina guard Diamond DeShields. New Hope won that game by 20 points.

This year, New Hope traveled to Columbia, S.C., to play Heathwood Hall, which features A'ja Wilson, the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2014 class. New Hope won that game by 72 points, although Wilson was injured and did not play.

Lucky said "it feels good" to play on such a talented team but added that it's not as easy as it may appear.

"There's always that pressure because you never want to lose," she said. "If you lose, then all the critics ... what they said will be true.

"I wouldn't say we're an all-star team. But we are a highly respected team. Even though we have so many Division I players, we still come together and play like a team."

Lucky, whose parents met at age 13 and were childhood sweethearts, has had the benefit of her father's basketball expertise as well as that of her older sisters.

Delaney, 51, was a 6-2 guard who started three games in his NBA career, playing three seasons on the stellar Utah Jazz teams that had John Stockton and Karl Malone. Delaney also played 15 games for the 1992-93 Portland Trail Blazers and finished out his career by playing seven years in France and a couple in the CBA.

Lucky's oldest sister, Tierra, 26, is an assistant coach at her alma mater, Winston-Salem State. The Rudds' middle child, Mia, is a 5-7 freshman combo guard who made the team at North Carolina A&T as a walk-on.

Delaney said Lucky is the most athletic of his daughters.

"She's also had the opportunity to watch them play and learn," he said. "She's been around basketball from day one."

Delaney said Lucky's game has evolved this season.

"She's always been able to hit open jumpers," he said. "This year, she has gone from 3-point shooter to getting to the basket and having a better sense of pump fakes and getting by people.

"Defensively, she is long enough to get her hands on the ball and quick enough to stay in front of people."

Lucky said being coached by her father is no big deal. She never thinks of him as "Dad" during games -- he's just Coach.

She also agrees that her outside shooting has been her forte.

"I've been working on finishing at the basket with contact," she said, "and on my pull-up jumper."

In fact, it was that pull-up jumper that kept New Hope Christian's undefeated season alive.

With the score tied with 6.5 seconds to go against Montclair (N.J.) late last month, Rudd received an inbounds pass in the backcourt, dribbled to the free throw line, stopped and popped a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.

"It banked in," she said, "so it was basically a lucky shot."

Hey, even a hardworking athlete like Lucky gets lucky once in a while.