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TCA's Amber Bullard follows her gut to La Salle to continue improbable hoops journey

08/12/2022, 9:30am EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

Amber Bullard said she hasn’t had many chances to share her story.

It’s definitely one worth listening to.

From being bullied her freshman year to learning a new sport, Bullard has come a long way in a lot of aspects of her life during her four years of high school.

The Christian Academy senior’s next step is Division I basketball at La Salle, where she committed in June.

She sometimes can’t quite believe the journey herself.

“Everyday I’m just like, ‘Oh my goodness this is crazy.’ My life has transformed,” said Bullard, a 6-foot-3 forward. “I’m playing college basketball on a full scholarship. … It’s insane really. It’s hard to think about sometimes. I get emotional thinking about it. There’s still other girls who don’t have offers ... Do I even deserve this? Am I good enough for this? 

“If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Amber Bullard, right, plays at the Hoop Group Summer League Championships at Spooky Nook. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

One of Bullard’s greatest strengths on the basketball court, her height, was once a source of resentment. She was mocked for her size as a freshman at Plymouth Whitemarsh.

Bullard, a Philly native who now lives in Conshohocken, decided to attend the much smaller The Christian Academy in Brookhaven as a sophomore.

She’s found a home there and part of her growth was becoming more comfortable with herself.

“God used my height for something good that was a burden to me,” Bullard said. “I gained my confidence while that was all happening, and I love my height now.”

Bullard was a volleyball player before arriving at TCA. There was one problem. TCA didn’t have a girls volleyball team.

Her height and athleticism a clear fit for the sport, Bullard joined the girls basketball team during her sophomore season. However, her only experience with the sport was going to shoot hoops with her father, Timothy, at the local park. She said she used to shoot with two hands.

When she got on the team, her coach told her it was unlikely she would see a lot of playing time.

“I never played organized basketball,” Bullard said. “I didn’t know, really, what defense was. I wasn’t really scoring a lot when I did first get in the game. When I did get in the game, everything was moving fast-paced. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t really catching the rebounds, things like that. I’m like, ‘Oh what’s going on?’ I was really clueless.”

Bullard began the season on TCA’s junior varsity team as a sophomore in 2020-21. One game after going to the local court with her dad the day before, things started to click. She was on the varsity team the next game, finishing the season with 26 varsity points.

Fast forward to last season and Bullard was TCA’s Player of the Year, scoring 296 points (15.6 ppg) to earn first team All-Bicentennial Athletic League Constitution Division honors and helping her team to an 11-8 record.

“Ever since that (conversation with my coach) I’ve been working every single day, doing basketball drills, lifting weights, sprinting outside, even in the cold,” Bullard said. “I would always just tell myself to have faith and I would pray to the Lord about it and things like that. Really all I did was I prayed to God, I told him how I felt. And I didn’t want to be on the bench all season. He completely just flipped everything around.”

Division I coaches started reaching out to Bullard this spring. Bullard played with the WeR1 program last summer, her first summer travel season, and said she got a lot of playing time that helped her grow.

After her standout season at TCA, she played with the Lehigh Valley Fever this grassroots season. She received her first offer from La Salle on April 24, which came as a bit of surprise. She didn’t realize Explorers head coach Mountain MacGillvray was watching until she went back and looked at the film from one of her AAU games.

“Coach Mountain explained to me that (he likes) how quickly I get up and down the floor, my postgame, my rebounding,” Bullard said. “He did say that was something that La Salle struggles with defensively.”

Bullard describes herself as a ‘momma’s girl,’ so whether she knew it or not, she was likely to always play her college ball somewhere close to home. Other out-of-state schools reached out, but Bullard quickly realized she was just following the hype and narrowed her search down.

The two top schools she chose between were Big 5 rivals La Salle and St. Joe’s.

TCA and Lehigh Valley's Amber Bullard didn't play organized basketball until her sophomore year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

But Bullard couldn’t shake the special feeling she got when she toured the Explorers’ campus in Olney the first time. She announced her commitment to La Salle on June 30 and her decision was reaffirmed when she went to La Salle’s team camp later in the summer.

“When you have that gut feeling that school is for you, it’s for you,” Bullard said. “La Salle’s diversity, the coaching staff, the players and it really feels like a family.””

Bullard shows flashes of some really special things on the floor, but it’s fair to consider her still quite raw as a prospect, with just two seasons of organized basketball under her belt.

She sometimes has to remind herself of that when she is out on the floor playing with and against top competition.

“It definitely has been challenging,” Bullard said. “A lot of people who have been playing for a long time, their experience is better than mine. I do have times where I do feel insecure about my game because I haven’t been playing for as long and things like that, but that only makes me want to work harder to gain all those losses of experience. 

“It is definitely challenging with mental toughness and learning new things that I haven’t learned before, footwork, trying not to move too fast. People already went through those stages, but I’m just going through those stages right now, which is insane and it’s hard for me. It might look all good on the outside. I catch myself being hard on myself.”

Her lack of experience can also be looked at in a positive light.

Bullard’s room to grow her game is part of the reason La Salle is excited to get her on campus in 2023 and watch her continue to improve during her college career.

“I do definitely think that I am great as a player and things like that but I do think they do also see the potential,” Bullard said. “Me accomplishing all this in just two years, imagine what it will be like another year or five years during my college career. He just explained to me how excited he is about my game.”

Bullard credits a lot of people for helping her over the course of the last two seasons. TCA head coach Dean Reiman helped unlock her game last school year. Fever coach David Forker similarly helped her continue to improve this spring and summer.

During some of the difficult moments and mentally trying times, she’s leaned on her parents Krishawna and Timothy as well as her Christian faith.

The goal was never to ‘Go D-I.’ 

Bullard just wanted to find a place she liked to go to school. Then she wanted to find a new sport. Then she wanted to get off the bench.

Though she admittedly can be tough on herself, Bullard makes sure to reflect on just how far she and her game have come.

“I actually had it so many times just thanking the Lord, thanking him for bringing me this far,” Bullard said. “You can pray for something and just completely be taken in another direction. My intention wasn’t really to get a D-I offer. I wasn’t playing basketball to get a D-I offer. I’m just playing basketball. That’s the crazy thing about it. God had bigger plans for me."

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