2006 Draft Profile: P.J. Tucker

PJ Tucker is 6-5. That's great if you're a point guard, tolerable if you're a shooting guard, and regrettable if you're a small forward. If however, you are, like Tucker, most comfortable down under the basket, scoring in the post and banging for rebounds... well, that lack of size is pretty much a deal-breaker. Out of the scads of undersized power forwards who have tried through the years, really only one has made a big impact.

Poor Man's Charles Barkley?
So, P.J. Tucker has to hope for lots of things: that GMs are looking closely for intangibles like attitude and grit, that long arms count for something, and that everyone remembers Charles Barkley (who, despite his listed playing height of 6-6, says in his own book that he is really a half-inch shorter than Tucker's reported 6-5).

Luckily for Tucker, Barkley comes up in plenty of draft profiles. Here's Chad Ford:

Tucker doesn't look like much of an NBA prospect. Though 6-5, he plays like a power forward. He has almost no range on his jump shot and is a shaky ball-handler.

How can a guy like that be a sleeper? Because several teams think Tucker has the intangibles to be a great player. He is tough, has a nose for the ball and finds ways to score around bigger opponents. More than one scout has referred to him as a poor man's Charles Barkley.

If you can look past the top of his head (as a lot of NBA players will be able to do with ease) Tucker looks like an NBA player. His arms are freakishly long, which in many regards is better than height (you don't, after all, grab rebounds or block shots with your scalp--you do so with your hands). He is clearly someone who knows his way around a weight room. He's Mr. 110%, and has a strong track record of playing well in big games.

He was co-MVP of a Texas team that came within a whisper of the Final Four, which is really something when you consider that his teammates included co-MVP LaMarcus Aldridge and future NBA player Daniel Gibson.

A Favorite of Scouts
Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress tells TrueHoop in an audio interview that P.J. Tucker is special (mp3). Here are some highlights.:

P.J. Tucker over the last three years was probably my favorite player in college basketball. This guy is fundamentally sound, he plays his heart out, he’s so strong and aggressive, and he just goes after it. He’s got probably the biggest heart in the NCAA. Big twelve player of the year, had a phenomenal season, everyone was saying LaMarcus Aldridge and Daniel Gibson and these guys were really going to be the stars of Texas, but he just took them on his back so many times... He very much reminds me of Bonzi Wells, just in the way he plays, the way he rebounds, just what a mismatch he is with his strength, he’s a huge guy, he’s built like a house. I think he’s going to be a really nice guy to bring off the bench. He’s one of those guys when just looking at this physical attributes you can’t really project him to any NBA position. But based on the way he plays and the heart he shows and his fundamentals he’s a really hard guy to rule out. He’s going to be a coach’s favorite.

David Thorpe tells TrueHoop his thoughts on P.J. Tucker.

Redemption Against Texas A&M
P.J. Tucker's poise is told best in a story that starts out with him making a mistake. This past season, in a game against Texas A&M, Texas held a slim lead in the waning moments. Tucker dribbled out the clock on a key possession, instead of working for a shot. A&M took advantage and won the game on a clutch play. The two teams met again in the semi-finals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament, and the American Airlines arena was packed to the gills, largely with A&M fans who were ruthless in going after Tucker's stupidity. One held a sign: "If you can read this, then you're not P.J. Tucker."

John P. Lopez tells the rest of the story in the Houston Chronicle.

He heard the heckles and saw the signs and did nothing. He didn't stare. He didn't bark. He didn't point or mention one word about revenge to his teammates.

"We all know that P.J. is a tough guy and he was going to use that, what happened, to go out and get the job done, but he wasn't going to let it get him out of his game," Gibson said. "Throughout, he just kept saying, 'We're not losing today. Not today.' "

Amid a wild, passionate scene at American Airlines Center, with the crowd roaring and both teams playing frenetic defense, the best player also was the calmest.

The Aggies again often had the Longhorns on the verge of another loss to their rivals. But time and again Tucker made plays and none of the biggest ones were the kind that jumped off the stat sheet.

They were the plays that smart players make. There was Tucker slicing into traffic under the A&M basket for a rebound.

There was an inside pass to center LaMarcus Aldridge for a basket, a pass kicked out to Kenton Paulino for a 3.

And there was Tucker switching onto Law, the A&M hero, in the final seconds. Tucker hadn't guarded Law all day, but Longhorns coach Rick Barnes put him on Law, and Tucker forced the guard to give up the ball on a last-minute A&M possession. With Tucker denying the ball, Law never touched it again on the possession.

Redemption Against Academic Woes
Tucker got some bad grades, and was academically inelegible for the second half of the the 2004-2005 season. As Mark Rosner reports in the Austin American-Statesman, a tough academic adviser called Randa Ryan, and "the gauntlet," were all it took to straighten him out.

Soon after he was assigned to Ryan during the spring 2005 semester, Tucker showed up 15 minutes late for a class. Ryan told Barnes, who convened a team meeting, asking if anybody had failed to meet their academic obligations.

When Tucker admitted to nothing, Barnes lashed out at him, his punishment a long stint on a stairclimbing machine — known to team members as the gauntlet.

"Two or three hours," Tucker said. "I just walked in to class a little late, and I didn't think anything of it. But Coach Barnes stressed that with what I was going through, I shouldn't even come close to being late."

Tucker refers to that day as the one that changed everything, and Barnes agrees.

P.J. Tucker Bullets