Coming back to play against the Red Storm in New York has to feel good for Jordan Tucker, who needed to take a slight detour before hitting his stride.
When St. John’s plays against Butler tonight in a Big East matchup at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, the Red Storm players will surely be reminded that the last time the two teams met in late January, the Bulldogs got the better of them, 80-71.
Junior guard Kamar Baldwin paced Butler with 30 points and eight rebounds in that one, while sophomore swingman Jordan Tucker came off the bench to add 24 points, six rebounds and two assists while cashing in six three-pointers.
For those who follow New York-area hoops and elite high school basketball, that game was the long-anticipated coming-out party for Tucker, whom many had pegged for stardom when he was among the top ten ranked small forwards in the class of 2017 prior to committing to Duke.
But Tucker’s journey took a detour, one that he didn’t see coming when he stepped foot on Duke’s campus last fall with his fellow freshmen Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.
Before we get to that, let’s rewind to the beginning.
THE GLAMOUR LIFE
Tucker grew up in White Plains, New York on the periphery of the sports and entertainment limelight.
His father, Lewis Tucker, grew up in NY and played basketball at Tuskegee University. Lewis once served as the president of Sean Combs Enterprises and was also an executive at Uptown Records and Universal Music Group. His good friend Dwight Myers, known to the Hip Hop world as “Heavy D”, was Jordan’s godfather.
Jordan and Diddy’s son, Christian Combs, were born a day apart and grew up together. Being around sports and entertainment royalty was the daily norm, as Lewis also became a sports agent that represented the likes of Ben Gordon, C.J. Miles, Charlie Villanueva and Daniel Gibson, among other NBA players.
As a freshman at White Plains High School, Villanova was the first major program to offer him a scholarship. After transferring to Archbishop Stepinac, he averaged 15.6 points as a sophomore and 17.8 as a junior.
When his father moved to Atlanta, Jordan transferred to Wheeler, a hoops powerhouse in Marietta, Georgia that has produced NBA players such as Shareef Abdur-Rahim and current young Celtics stud Jaylen Brown.
In addition to Villanova, he was weighing scholarship offers from Indiana, Syracuse and Georgia Tech before Duke, his dream school, came calling.
ALL THAT GLITTERS AIN’T GOLD
But as a freshman with the Blue Devils, reality came calling in the harshest of ways.
Always among the top players, if not the best, on most of the teams he suited up for, Tucker could see that he wasn’t going to be seeing any major minutes on a squad with Grayson Allen, Bagley, Carter, Duval and Trent Jr.
And with Coach K in hot pursuit of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish in the next recruiting class, Tucker realized that the only significant contributions he’d be making was to the team’s overall GPA.
After appearing in two games for a total of 14 minutes, Tucker realized that suiting up for his dream school was perhaps not the wisest decision. After four months on campus, he knew that he needed a fresh start elsewhere.
He considered transferring to Ohio State, Gonzaga and Georgetown, among others, before deciding to play for the Bulldogs.
“Experiencing that really helped me a lot, let me step back and re-evaluate everything,” Tucker told the Indianapolis Star when he regained his eligibility and suited up for Butler for the first time in December. “I kinda questioned myself as far as confidence-wise. Me leaving Duke was more of like me going to find myself somewhere rather than staying. Because I wanted to tough it out.”
A FRESH START
“When I came to Butler, my biggest thing was listening and being on time,” he said. “Doing everything. Handling my business. Little things. Because that’s what’s going to carry over to the court, not my talent. The more positive I’m doing off the court, the better it’s going to carry on the court.”
Some might see the decision to attend Duke as one that he regrets. But that’s far from true.
“I think everything happens for a reason and if I never went to Duke, I don’t think I ever would’ve been here,” Tucker told Adam Zagoria of zagsblog.com. “I don’t think I ever would’ve picked Butler the first time going around. I’m glad me going to Duke and things not working out for me, it opened my eyes a lot. It just gave me the opportunity to come here. This was all meant to be. I’m in the perfect place right now for me.”
“Duke was always my dream school,” he continued. “It was something I couldn’t pass up, no matter what. When people ask me if I regret it, I don’t regret it because I would have ever known what it’s like if I didn’t go. I would’ve always regretted not going to Duke because Coach K is somebody I always wanted to meet/play for. Even though I didn’t play, I learned so much about myself, as a person, as a player. That’s why it helped me make my decision to go to Butler, and pick a program that can help me grow and get better to progress.”
After sitting out the year and working on his game, Tucker is ready to make some noise. Coming back to play against St. John’s in New York, where his hoops dreams first started, has to feel good for the young man who needed to take a slight detour before hitting his stride.