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Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the January 1996 issue of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine
Although she has long since proven herself as one of the best women's basketball players in the world, Ruthie Bolton had to do a major selling job to get Auburn coach Joe Ciampi to take a chance on the young guard from McClain, Miss.
When Bolton was a high school senior, her dream was to follow big sister Mae Ola to Auburn and play for the Lady Tigers, who were winning games at a record-setting pace with her older sister one of the team stars.
Ciampi didn't have any doubts that Ruthie could be a good college player, but thought it might be difficult to follow in her more acclaimed older sister's footsteps. Mae Ola was a high school All-American and considered one of the best prep basketball players in Mississippi history, who became one of the best in SEC history. Ruthie was an All-State player whose statistics were good, but not spectacular, but her teams always seemed to find a way to win with two state titles to their credit.
"She adamantly told me and the coaching staff at that time that she wanted to come to Auburn, she would play at Auburn and prove to us the player she was and that all she wanted was to be given an opportunity to show us what she could do. To say the least, she has proven to me and all our coaching staff that if you give someone an opportunity and let them grow and you give them some direction they can be a success. That is what college basketball is all about. She has blossomed into one of the greatest guards from baseline to baseline that has ever played the game because of her quickness, her defensive strength and her with her ability to wear you down mentally...She never, never gives you a chance to relax. Offensively, she has totally improved her IQ. She has always been able to shoot it and score, but now she has become more selective and creates more opportunities for her teammates.
"Ruthie definitely proved to all of us that she could be a successful player in this environment," Ciampi adds. "We had just graduated our starting point guard, Helene Baroody, and Ruthie stepped right in and immediately became one of our key players. She created so many opportunities for us with her defensive ability that we let her take control."
On a team loaded with talent, Bolton's role at Auburn was as a defensive stopper, ball-handler and a penetrator to set up her teammates. She had 526 assists and 248 steals in her four college seasons. Bolton didn't shoot a lot as the point guard and averaged 9.9, 8.3, 9.6 and 7.9 points per game as a collegian. In addition to playing basketball, she was a good student in the Army ROTC program and is still involved with a commitment through the year 2000. She was given a "special waiver" by the Army to postpone her military obligations while she tours America with the national team that has been demolishing the top college teams. USA Basketball lined up a 21-game coast to coast tour for the team that began in October 28th against Athletes in Action and will end Feb. 3rd at Texas Tech.
Auburn's chance to get a lesson in basketball is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 3rd when Bolton and teammates Jennifer Azzi (Stanford), Teresa Edwards (Georgia), Lisa Leslie (Southern Cal), Rebecca Lobo (Connecticut), Katrina McClain (Georgia), Nikki McCray (Tennessee), Carla McGhee (Tennessee), Dawn Staley (Virginia), Katy Steding (Stanford) and Sheryl Swoopes (Texas Tech). Those former college stars are familiar to serious Lady Tiger fans because with the exception of Swoopes, everyone on the national team played against Auburn as a collegian. In December 1994 USA Basketball announced plans to try to win the 1996 gold medal in women's basketball, something it had done only in 1984 and 1988, ending the Soviet Union's dominance in the sport. However, after the 1988 success American national teams have generally struggled in international competitions and a new approach is being tried.
USA Basketball set up headquarters in Colorado Springs and hired respected Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer to take a year's leave of absence to build a team. "In the past years, USA teams only played together for short periods of time before they competed," VanDerveer says. "Sometimes the players didn't know what to expect from their teammates. They lacked a feel for each other's games. By playing together for an extended period of time, the players on the national team can learn each others idiosyncrasies. That is what this year is for-learning the nuances of the game. It is not Xs and Os, ball-handling and shooting. It's anticipating what a teammate will do."
Team USA contacted Ciampi and asked for the game. "It's a compliment to our program that they want us to play them, but I am not so sure I should have scheduled it," says Ciampi, who has watched as Team USA blasted defending national champ Connecticut 83-47 and preseason SEC favorite Georgia 100-53. "I don't know what it is going to do to our team confidence, but it will be good to see Ruthie and we hope our fans will come out to see her play."
While at Auburn, Bolton's teams posted an overall record of 119-13 with four NCAA Tournament appearances and three SEC titles. Auburn finished as NCAA runnerup her junior and senior years. Bolton, a two-time Academic All-SEC pick, was named to the 1988 Final Four All-Tournament team and won many other honors in college. She hit the European professional circuit with a team in Sweden in 1990-91 and then became the first American woman to play professionally in Hungary. She then moved to the world's top women's league in Italy and averaged 26 points per game for C.A. Fainzia in 1992-93. She continued to be a big scorer in the Italian League for the next three seasons playing with Erreti Faenza, averaging 28 points and 7.1 rebounds in her top season there.
She began her national competition on a gold medal squad at the U.S. Olympic Festival in 1986 and her international competition touring Italy and Czechoslovakia as a member of the 1990 U.S. Select team. Her breakthrough season came the next year as she led the 1991 World University Games team to a gold medal with a team high 14 points per game. She was named 1991 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year. She was one of 18 finalists for the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, but did not make the final cut, something that happened to her sister in 1988. However, barring injury she is a lock to make the Olympic team this time after her strong play in the 1993 and 1994 World Championships and for the 1994 Goodwill Games gold medal-winning team for which she averaged 11.8 points and six rebounds. She is one of the leading scorers for the team on its current tour.
Bolton, the daughter of Rev. Linwood Bolton and the late Leola Bolton, was known for her great singing voice at Auburn, something she developed with the family's gospel group that toured the South. With 20 children and 67 nieces and nephews, there was never a shortage of singing prospects. Both Ruthie, and sister Mae Ola, who also has played professionally in Europe, found moonlighting jobs as nightclub singers while playing pro ball in Italy. On her last tour in Italy, Ruthie worked as the lead singer of the band Antidum Tarantula, singing in Italian.
Ruthie has never been shy and should do well handling the pressure of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and there is a very good chance she will do it as one of the starters for the Team USA.
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