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Rack finds sport she loves on the hardwood


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- Pearl Rack had dreams for her daughter. 


As someone who enjoys dancing and as a past sponsor of the Franklin High School (La.) dance team, Pearl imagined a day when her youngest child, Alexis, would take the stage for a performance and delight audiences with her moves. 


Pearl decided to assist Alexis with her steps by enrolling her in a dance class.  


But Alexis wouldn''t move. 


Pearl thought Alexis had a problem with the class, so she switched her to another class. 


Alexis still didn''t move. 


Things changed, though, when Alexis was asked to tumble. The once stoic Rack soon became a bundle of energy. 


It didn''t take Pearl Rack long to make a change. 


"I decided I guess I have lost out and Alexis is not going to be a dancer," Pearl Rack said. 


Pearl opted for sports next and quickly discovered her daughter had found something she loved. 


"Basketball always has been important to Alexis since she put a basketball in her hand," Pearl Rack said. "Her brothers (Willdric and Toddric) played basketball and, of course, she followed the trend." 


Mississippi State is glad Rack gravitated to the sport. 


The senior guard enters today''s game (2 p.m.) against Auburn at Humphrey Coliseum with 1,655 points. She is 23 points shy of moving past Jennifer Fambrough (1,677 points) into third place on the school''s all-time scoring list. Ahead of her are two of the program''s greats: LaToya Thomas and Tan White. 


Rack hasn''t had time to consider what it means to be included in the conversation with Thomas and White, but she knows she has enjoyed every minute of her time at MSU.  


"It will mean a lot because every time I finish something I always want to leave a legacy as one of the best," Rack said. 


She certainly has accomplished that goal. 


Rack leads MSU (17-9, 8-5 Southeastern Conference) in scoring (19 points per game). She is having her highest scoring season and is shooting her best percentage (37.8 percent) of her four-year career. 


The 5-foot-7 standout from Franklin High also leads the Lady Bulldogs in assists (116), minutes per game (33.6), and free-throw percentage (78 percent). She also is second on the team in steals (58) and averages 3.4 redounds per game. She hopes to return to the court today after missing the team''s game last Sunday against the University of Mississippi with a foot strain. 


Rack also doesn''t want to miss today''s game because her mother, father, Willie, and Willdric will be in the crowd to help her and eight of her classmates (one manager) celebrate Senior Day. Players Tysheka Grimes, Marneshia Richard, Chanel Mokango, Armelie Lumanu, Rima Kalonda, Bethany Washington, and Channa Campbell also will be recognized before the game. 


Pearl Rack and her family will make the six-hour trek from Franklin, La., to be in Starkville today. She said she has attended all of Alexis'' games in Starkville and will enjoy today''s celebration of what all of the seniors have accomplished. 


"I think she made a good decision," Pearl Rack said of her daughter''s choice to pick MSU over Arkansas, Tulane, and others. "She loves the game, and she has gotten a chance to play the game, and she is doing well in the game. It has been a home atmosphere, and it still is." 


Rack practiced Friday and could help MSU attempt to solidify its hold on third place in the SEC. MSU won at Auburn 73-58 in its SEC opener in Jan. 3. A victory today would go a long way to help securing a top-four finish in the league. The Lady Bulldogs play at Alabama on Thursday and at LSU on Sunday. A top-four finish in the conference would earn MSU a first-round by for the SEC Tournament on March 4-7 in Duluth, Ga. 


Rack''s play has helped put MSU in position to earn an extra day rest. A year ago, Rack became the first MSU player to be named First-Team All-SEC since Thomas and White. Rack said "it kind of hurt" Sunday to watch as MSU defeated Ole Miss 73-54 last week at Humphrey Coliseum. She said there isn''t really anything that will be able to keep her out of the lineup today, even though she said her foot feels only at 80 percent. 


Rack credits her friends, coaches, and family members for helping her do what she has done at MSU. She said she never imagined she would be in position to finish her career as an all-time leader in part because not that many players from Franklin High went on to play in college. 


Rack has helped change that with an explosive scoring game and shooting range from beyond the 3-point arc. Two of her best games -- a career-high 43-point effort against Maryland on Nov. 22, 2009, and a 34-point performance against Georgia on Jan. 28 -- have come this season in victories. 


But Rack has done a little bit of everything for the Lady Bulldogs. She has matured into a bigger leader and has been more vocal on the court with her teammates. 


"Her competitive spirit (has helped her be so good)," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "I feel she is still growing as a player. She is maturing every day and understanding better what we want, but she is a competitor and she is not going to back down from anybody." 


Grimes, who played against Rack in high school, said her classmate never has allowed her size to prevent her from being a game-changer. 


"She can score any type of way," Grimes said. "Her will to win (makes her so successful)." 


Alexis'' family helped her develop that intensity. Her mother put a basketball in her hand shortly after the the dancing lessons didn''t pan out. At home in the backyard, Willdric and Toddric taught Alexis how to shoot, how to be competitive, and how to play tough defense. 


Alexis smiles when asked how she got her start in basketball. 


"My mother said my brother moved more than me (in dancing)," Rack said. "When they put a basketball in my hand I moved then. She let me do what I loved doing." 


Pearl Rack continued to help Alexis by taking her to the gym in seventh grade so she could work on her shot. Alexis said her mother told her she needed to make 100 shots, and that she didn''t start to feel comfortable making shots until she realized that goal. 


Pearl didn''t know it at the time, but she was creating a monster that would go on to terrorize SEC opponents. And while Pearl still would have liked Alexis to take to dancing, she has enjoyed everything Alexis has done on the basketball court. 


"It proves mom is not always right," Pearl Rack said. "I just can''t express how proud I am of Alexis, not only the basketball player she is, but also the person she has become. Even though I have never seen her dancing I am so proud of her." 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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