By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Right out of college, Tesla Akers believes things have worked out “all kind of perfect for me.”
A former all-state guard at Princeton Senior High School and an all-conference performer at Ferrum (Va.) College, Akers directed her first practice as head girls basketball coach at Princeton a little over a week ago.
“I have a great love for the game,” she said on Tuesday. “I’d always played it. I miss it terribly. I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to continue with it, in coaching.”
“I get to see there’s still a love of the game in the youth today. It makes me really excited for the new generation of players. The fact that the girls are wanting to play and to play hard is most rewarding part of it.”
Then there’s the flip side. She said, “I think the thing that’s been most challenging is, I came right off the college level. I’m having to relate to ninth and 10th graders instead of college players.
“At Ferrum, I was captain and did a lot of coaching on the floor, but being completely in control and having the decisions on your back is very different.”
“My first week was definitely an eye-opener for what I need to be doing and how I need to be doing it.”
She was hired early this summer to take over the coaching job at her alma mater from her former coach, Debbie Ball. Ball was head coach of the Tigerettes for 30 years, taking them to the state tournament five times — including last March, when Akers’ younger sister McKenzie was the team’s senior point guard.
Tesla Akers played varsity ball at Princeton from 2006-09. She averaged 17 points per game in her senior year, helping the team to the state tournament and making all-state.
At Ferrum, an NCAA Division III school, she helped the Panthers to the regular-season USA South Conference championship for the past two seasons, making first team all-conference both years.
When the Panthers won the conference tournament in 2012, she was named the tourney’s MVP. She was honorable mention all-America last spring.
Akers said about her selection as Princeton’s coach, “I was very surprised, very blessed to hear I got the job. It’s the future, the career path I wanted coming out of college. It’s still amazing to me, all kind of perfect for me.”
Akers said about her impressions so far, “It feels great. We have a group of girls that work very hard. That makes it much easier to construct drills, when you have a group ready to do anything for me.
“They are willing to adapt (and) they’ve jumped into my new things. They’ve done really well so far.”
This year’s team is “a really young group,” she said. The only senior, Ashley Culicerto, is recovering from a serious knee injury. With last year’s senior-laden group making the state tournament, Akers said, “They’ve got a big challenge, big shoes to fill.”
“We have a theme this year for the season. It’s called ‘Challenge Accepted.’ ... We had an outstanding team go to the state tournament, with eight seniors. This group understands with me coming in, that we (can) be a successful program, in a new way.”
“I really see us doing better than what the community is expecting,” she said. “I can see that they’re very hard workers and they’re underestimated.”
Akers is now taking classes at Concord University for a master’s degree in education, and is finishing up some student teaching, “my observation hours out in the field” in her words, that she was not able to complete at Ferrum because of the demands of athletics.
In the meantime, she is a substitute teacher in the Mercer County school system.
She is getting valuable help in her coaching work from her assistant coaches, Amanda Whittaker McCabe and Tressie Hamm.
McCabe will be Princeton’s girls junior varsity coach. Akers said, “She just really brings a lot of enthusiasm to the group. She’s also on their back about doing the little things right, (and) she tells them to cheer each other up when they’re down.
“Her basketball knowledge, her IQ is really high, and that really comes through and shows up in the girls.”
Akers said that Hamm, a veteran coach at Princeton, “does all my paperwork and things. Where I’m new, I don’t have a clue about all the details that have to be done before we can even participate. It’s really great to have someone who knows how that works.”
“She does a great job, also, keeping up with our girls’ stats and everything in practices.”
The new head coach said, “They’ve both been there and they’re older than me and have worked as coaches here ... . I’m very blessed to have them.”
The process of forging a team continues, with deadlines fast approaching.
“We scrimmage Bluefield on Monday night at Princeton,” Akers said. “I’m very excited for the girls to get to play someone other than themselves.”
“They’ll get a chance to see how I’m like in a game and how we can work together. They already know that I can get on them in practice.” That comes from times when they are “talking or chatting on their own, or they get lazy every once in awhile,” she said.
The regular season starts with a pair of home games on Dec. 5 and 10 against South Charleston and Shady Spring.
Akers knows she has big shoes to fill, too — those of her mentor, Debbie Ball.
“She was very direct with how she liked to run things,” Akers said. “We had a very disciplined group when I was there. ... We were scared of her; we didn’t want to make her mad or disappoint her.”
After a moment, she added, “She was like a second mother to all of us. We could go to her for anything. I want my girls to feel they can come to me for anything as well.”
— Contact Tom Bone at