By Jack Williams
Jaime Kruppa gave up piano lessons to play church league basketball when she was in the third grade-and she’s been making wonderful music in gym shoes ever since. Just ask the legion of fans who cheer the Georgia Tech senior forward these days.
A self-made player who has become a star despite the fact she’s a very slender 6-1, Kruppa leads the charge this weekend when Georgia Tech (14-13, 5-11) shoots for glory in the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Tournament at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. The Jackets play a first round game against North Carolina (14-13, 7-9) Friday night at 6 p.m.
“Any team can beat any other team this year,” Kruppa said this week. “That’s been proven during the regular season. We have to go in with that attitude-that it’s a wide-open tournament.”
Tech split two games with the Tar Heels during the regular season, winning 82-75, at Chapel Hill, but losing the return match in Atlanta, 85-63. The third meeting should be a highlight of opening games in the tournament.
But first things, first. Let’s set the record straight about those piano lessons.
“It really did happen like that,” Kruppa says, smiling. “I did give up piano for basketball, but I still play sometimes. Since I don’t have a piano here and rarely practice, I guess I will never know how good I could have been. I don’t play symphony pieces. I play songs heard on the radio like, for example, Bryan Adams’ ‘Everything I do.'”
If Kruppa had to explain ‘Everything I do’ on the basketball court, it would take a while. She currently ranks third on the Tech team in scoring at 12.0 per game, is first in rebounding at 7.4 and second in field goal percentage at .468. She also plays tenacious defense with the best of them. Kruppa has posted six double-doubles during the course of this season.
“Jamie has had a wonderful senior year,” says head coach Agnus Berenato. “She has provided us with outstanding leadership. Throughout her career here, she performed above and beyond her capabilities.”
A big guard her freshman season, Kruppa moved to a post position as a sophomore and has been bumping and battling people much bigger and stronger ever since.
“I’m not afraid of anybody,” Kruppa says. “I’ve always been under-sized. But that doesn’t matter. I just take it as a challenge that I’m posting up against players bigger than I am.”
She points out that she learned how to muscle stronger players when she played a post position in high school at South Gwinnett in her hometown, Lithonia, Ga. “I was matched up against much bigger people all the time, like, for example, Autumn Sam, who went on to play at Clemson,” she said.
Reflecting on her career at Georgia Tech, Kruppa says two former Jacket players, Joannah Kauffmann and Danielle Donehew (current student assistant coach), have provided her with the most inspiration.
“Joannah Kauffman is my idol,” Kruppa said. “I used to play against her in high school when she was at Brookwood. Then when I came to Georgia Tech, we were teammates for one year. That was the coolest thing-to play on the same team with her. I say the same things to our young players today that Joannah said to me.”
Kruppa also has gained much inspiration from her parents, Ken and Denise, both of whom formerly were athletes. Ken played baseball for two seasons at Georgia Southern and then spent two years in the New York Yankees’ organization. Jamie’s mother was a high school basketball player and her younger brother, Joey, also was a high school basketball player.
“My parents always have been there for me,” she said. “They have been very supportive of my basketball career at Tech.”
Looking back on her four years as a Tech player, Kruppa says the team highlight came with last year’s winning record and two victories in the WNIT. “From a personal point of view, the highlight would have to be our game at Duke this year even though we lost by three points,” she said.
The Tech forward scored 28 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had a career-high two blocked shots in that game against Duke, one of the nation’s top-ranked teams.
Her toughest opponent? Kruppa didn’t blink an eye. “It has to be (Schuye) LaRue of Virginia,” she said. That’s interesting in view of the fact that Tech beat Virginia twice during the course of the season.
Kruppa says basketball “has made me a much stronger person, both on the court and off.” She adds, “Today, I am a much more strong-minded and strong-willed person than I was when I enrolled.”
Kruppa says the Georgia Tech experience, in general, has been most rewarding. “It’s been tough,” she said. “Time management is very important. You have to have that if you are going to get through a school like Georgia Tech. This is not exactly Podunk U.”
She majors in management, but is undecided what she wants to do when her basketball days are over. “I’m going to sit down with Lucius Sanford (Director of Student Life) and talk about that when the season is over,” she said. “I would like to work at a big corporation somewhere.”
For the present, however, Kruppa still has on those gym shoes. She’s still bumping and battling bigger players. She’s still making music on the basketball court.