Oct. 22, 2009
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By David Meyer
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Anthony Tucker’s freshman season started out extremely promising and ended with a bout of adversity. The 6-foot-4 guard was the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer through nine games last season, before a tumultuous December. Tucker saw limited minutes after being diagnosed with mononucleosis, was suspended two games following a public intoxication charge, and was declared academically ineligible for second semester. That sequence of events left Tucker in a momentary state of disarray.
“There were some moments where I didn’t know what was going to happen to me,” admitted Tucker.
During the chaotic time, University of Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter shared an old adage with Tucker. The advice kept the events that transpired in perspective and helped to guide Tucker through the difficult period.
“He went through some tough times as we’re all aware of, but it didn’t define him,” said Lickliter, “As I told him, a wise person once told me that in all situations that are tough, you can get bitter or you can get better. Anthony got better.”
The player-coach duo anticipates a different story in the 2009-10 season. Tucker got his grades in order in the spring semester and regained eligibility. After months of reflection, the sophomore is able to see his struggles in a different light.
“Now that I look back on it, I think it’s really going to help me both on and off the court. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. I’m thankful now that I was able to make it through that,” said Tucker.
One way he showed gratitude was by increasing his weight-lifting efforts in the offseason. Working with strength coach Rusty Burney, Tucker managed to add nearly 20 pounds of muscle, topping 200 pounds. The team’s four-game exhibition trip to Italy and Greece in late May was an opportunity for Tucker to showcase his filled-out frame.
“For me, it was huge just getting back on the court with these guys. I think people really put to use the stuff we worked on in individual workouts. I think it was big for us,” Tucker said.
With the departure of former Iowa point guard Jeff Peterson, Tucker saw an increased role in handling the basketball during the Hawkeyes’ European tour, as he will throughout the upcoming season.
“He went through some tough times as we’re all aware of, but it didn’t define him. As I told him, a wise person once told me that in all situations that are tough, you can get bitter or you can get better. Anthony got better.”
UI head coach
“It was the first time I was actually a primary point guard, where I wasn’t just doing it to give Jeff a break last year. It helped me a lot in seeing the game from that spot,” said Tucker.
While he played primarily as an off-guard last year, Lickliter is confident in Tucker’s ability to manage newfound responsibilities.
“I think he’s the kind of player that will be comfortable in whatever situation we ask him to fill that particular night. I trust him. I think he can play either position,” said Lickliter.
Tucker played both guard positions on his high school team in Minnetonka, Minn., where he earned first team all-state honors as a senior and was also named Metro Player of the Year by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
“I’ve always played the one and the two. Now I’m kind of focusing more on the smaller aspects of playing the one, because it’s something that we have to do,” said Tucker.
Iowa’s lack of an experienced floor general will force Tucker to assume different duties this season. He understands that his versatility will serve him and his team well.
“Our emphasis is on being skilled and being able to do a multitude of things, so having multiple guys that can handle the ball and make shots makes the defense work a lot more. That’s what we’re going to have to do,” said Tucker.
Lickliter wants his players to be capable and proficient. His system is predicated on the team concept — being unselfish and playing together. This philosophy has clearly rubbed off on Tucker.
“More than anything, we’re going to be a team. We’re not going to have individual guys going out, trying to do different things. We’re going to be a collective unit,” said Tucker.
As one of only five players with starting experience returning to the team this year, Tucker knows he has to shift into a mentor. He will be looked upon to help speed up the learning curve of five newcomers.
“I think coach expects me to be a leader and be an extension of him since I’ve been in the system for a year,” said Tucker.
Despite the challenge of familiarizing new players with Lickliter’s system, Tucker thinks that this group has an advantage that is characteristic of winning teams: strong chemistry.
“I feel like we’re a little bit more tight-knit than we were last year. I think people had different visions for what they were going to be doing next year even during the season last year, so it kind of came apart,” said Tucker, “This year I think these are all guys that want to be here and we’re all pretty close actually.”
While spending time with his teammates on and off the court, Tucker tries to give incoming players guidance because he found out the hard way. The biggest lesson he took away from those experiences was to not take anything for granted.
“I put myself in some bad spots, so obviously my growing up has been a little bit different than everyone else’s. I’ve just learned that you have to work hard every day in the classroom and on the court,” said Tucker, “That’s something the new guys will pick up. I try to be an advocate of that and let them know that you have to take care of both ends.”
Tucker has come full circle. His talent was evident in the 14 games he played as a freshman; the hardship he underwent was for the better. As a mature sophomore, he is ready to complete a full season and realize his full potential.