Tucker returns to court

BY J.T. BUGOS | JUNE 11, 2009 7:26 AM

Game days are what athletes live for. Endless hours of practice, conditioning and strength training all lead up to the days they get to compete.

For months, Anthony Tucker was denied game day. He wasn’t able to experience the thrill of walking onto the court in front of thousands of screaming fans. He wasn’t able to take shots in meaningful situations. He practiced, but couldn’t participate in the games he practiced so hard for.

Almost five months after being ruled academically ineligible for the spring, Tucker stepped back on the court with his teammates when the Hawkeyes went overseas to play against European competition. The sophomore-to-be played well in Iowa’s three exhibition contests, averaging almost 14 points, three assists, and four rebounds in slightly more than 34 minutes of playing time per game. For Tucker, it wasn’t about his stats but being back on the court with his teammates.

“It was good to get back to competing with my teammates and make up for lost time,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

He wasn’t the only one glad to return to the hardwood — his teammates were just as thrilled to see Tucker back out there.

“It was great having him back. He’s a great shooter,” sophomore-to-be Aaron Fuller said. “It definitely adds another weapon that we have on the court. It was great having him back there, and he’s got to keep going up.”

Even though Tucker couldn’t play the last two months of the 2008-09 season, he never stopped working hard. While improving his grades, he worked out individually with coaches and lifted four times a week in addition to regular practices. The extra time has helped mold Tucker into a more complete player.

“I think my defense got a lot better, and that was something I needed to work on,” he said. “Also understanding the system a lot more and knowing what the coaches expect of me and being able to do that.”

A quick learning curve will be necessary for Tucker as he switches from shooting guard to point guard. He was able to play the point in Europe and started to get comfortable with the position.

“I was a little rusty just as far as shooting the ball and game atmosphere,” he said. “I struggled a little at first with the adjustment of switching positions, but I got the hang of it the last two games.”

Iowa sophomore-to-be Matt Gatens agreed with his assessment of his point guard play across the Atlantic.

“He was definitely real hungry to get back out there. He had a lot of fun being out there with us again in a real game atmosphere,” Gatens said. “He played well. He definitely led us. He was our point guard, and he definitely directed things and did a great job of it.”

After shaking off the rust, Tucker was able to focus on just playing basketball. Being back on the court playing competitively showed him what he missed during his absence.

“I missed everything,” he said. “From warming up before games to playing the games to the halftime talks when you’re actually involved in them.”

It was not lost on other Hawkeyes that Tucker had missed playing and was excited to be back.

“He didn’t lose his basketball IQ. Sitting out for so long, you’d think you’d lost some kind of awareness, but Tucker definitely did not,” junior-to-be Jarryd Cole said. “He still has his stroke, he can still pass the ball. He’s really aware, and he was really excited to get back out on the playing field with us, and we were very glad to have him back.”

Tucker has put his suspension aside with the help of better study habits, and now is ready to focus on boosting the Hawkeyes’ win total next season.

“I want to help us win a lot of games and be competitive in the Big Ten,” Tucker said.

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