By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After suffering an ankle injury that kept her out of action for almost three weeks, missing five precious games during her senior year, Rayven Lucas wanted to make sure that her final games at Harrison High School would be memorable.
When she suffered the injury in a game against Hoboken, Lucas thought her career was over.
“I was getting face guarded by a player and she stepped on my ankle,” Lucas said. “I felt it pop. I cried so much, because I thought I was done. I was so upset that I wanted to punch myself in the face. It was awful. I really thought it was over.”
As it turned out, Lucas missed those five games, but it made her more determined when she got back.
“Once she came back, she was on fire,” Harrison girls’ basketball head coach Al Ruiz said. “She was upset she missed those games. She wanted to make the most of it. I knew she had it in her. The injury really sparked her.”
The 5-foot-9 Lucas has worked hard to develop her game. She has become one of the most diverse players around, someone who could handle the ball, shoot from the perimeter and also go down low and post up to make shots.
“I wanted to become a well-rounded player,” Lucas said. “I also became a student of the game.”
“It’s been a big blessing,” Ruiz said. “The more she gets into playing a different position, the better the team gets. If she’s outside, the inside opens up for her teammates. If she’s inside, she can score there. It helps out the whole team and makes my job a lot easier. Just to have someone on the court that can do so much is a blessing. She can play anywhere on the court.” Lucas said that she spends a lot of time watching basketball on television, especially Duke in college basketball and the NBA.
It also helps that Lucas has had a personal coach in her father.
Ray Lucas is perhaps the greatest athlete to ever come from Harrison. He was a 2,000-point scorer in basketball, but made his mark in football, first thriving as the starting quarterback at Rutgers and later playing eight seasons in the NFL, most notably the Jets and the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The elder Lucas, currently a television analyst on the SNY Network for Jets coverage, has served as a volunteer assistant coach with Ruiz for the last three years.
“It’s been amazing, having him as a coach and of course, as my dad,” Rayven Lucas said. “He’s a little tough, maybe tougher on me than the others. But there wasn’t a lot of pressure being his daughter. I think it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a perfect thing.”
What’s been perfect has been Lucas’ play of late. She’s kicked it into an extra gear. In the past week, Lucas had 23 points in a win over Glen Rock, 29 in a win over Dwight-Englewood and 25 in a win over Ridgefield. She also had nine rebounds in the Dwight-Englewood game. “I think I’m a lot more confident and I’m taking the ball to the basket more,” Lucas said. “I’m getting fouled a lot.”
For her efforts, Lucas has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Ruiz seems to think that Lucas’ scoring outburst stems from experience and maturity.
“I think she’s playing the same, but she’s just scoring more,” Ruiz said. “I think the experience and the maturity comes out of her now. I just hope it continues.”
The Blue Tide will face Brearley Regional of Kenilworth in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state playoffs this week.
“I think that Rayven has that sense of urgency, that we’re coming to the end,” Ruiz said. “I think Rayven and the other captains feel that way. I think they all feel it. But Rayven is really playing well and she’s helped us to be able to do a lot of things.”
Incredibly, Lucas didn’t arrive in Harrison right away. She first attended Jackson Memorial High School.
“I was a cheerleader in Jackson,” Lucas said. “I came to Harrison in the middle of my freshman year. But I didn’t have a hard time making new friends.”
When Lucas arrived, many of her classmates had no idea of her famous father.
“They didn’t know,” Lucas said. “Only the old-timers knew.”
But it’s coming to an end – and Lucas is ready for the next step, which will be playing basketball at Montclair State in the fall. Lucas made that decision official recently.
“It sure went by so fast,” Lucas said. “I have to thank my teammates, who made it possible. I’m going to miss it a lot. It’s been a lot of fun and the people at Harrison made it fun.”
“I think she’s going to leave a great legacy,” Ruiz said. “She’s a person who was athletic, but a very sociable and happy young lady. She definitely leaves her mark with the Blue Tide.”
Lucas, who earned First Team All-North Jersey Interscholastic Conference- Liberty Division honors last week for the second straight year, was asked if she knew she could have such a great scoring week.
“It surprised me a little bit, but my career best is 31,” Lucas said. “I think I knew I had it in me. As soon as I felt 100% again, I was ready to go.”