Former Gopher to finish degree at U

Trent Tucker left the University 22 years ago to pursue a basketball career.

Once a standout on the basketball court, Trent Tucker now stands out in the classroom.

The former Gophers basketball star left the University 22 years ago to play professional basketball and spent 11 seasons in the National Basketball Association.

But this summer, Tucker, 45, returned to the University to work toward completing his degree.

Tucker said some of his sports psychology classmates this summer recognized him.

“That’s different,” he said. “People see you walk in and they look at you like, ‘Why are you here? Why are you taking this class?’ “

Reasons for returning

One reason Tucker returned to the University was his desire to someday coach basketball.

Tucker said he enjoys the level of talent in professional basketball, but the teaching aspect of college basketball intrigues him.

“There are so many things that I believe players at the collegiate level can still learn about the game that can make them better players for the future and prepare them for a chance to play in the NBA,” Tucker said. “I like teaching and working with them on fundamentals, teaching kids to get better in their games.”

But NCAA rules mandate that all coaches must have a college degree, so Tucker wants to complete his degree to become eligible to coach.

“If the opportunity came and if it was the right opportunity for me, I want to make sure I would be in the right place to make that next step,” he said.

When the Gophers men’s basketball team had an assistant coaching position open this spring, Tucker’s name surfaced as a possible candidate. But Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the department could not consider Tucker for the job because he does not have a degree.

“If Trent wants to get into (coaching), having that degree will enable him to do that,” Maturi said. “And I’ve got a feeling he’d be a heck of a coach.”

Coaching aspirations

Though Tucker cannot coach at the college level, he still works with individual players to improve their games.

Tucker started working with former Gophers power forward Kris Humphries three years ago, when he was a junior at Hopkins High School.

“It’s been very important because he’s taught me stuff on and off the court,” Humphries said. “So much of the game goes beyond the court, and there are so many things he helps me with.”

Humphries, who was selected 13th overall by the Utah Jazz in June’s NBA Draft, said he also talks regularly with Tucker about making the transition to the pro game.

Tucker also works with other players, including former Gopher Rick Rickert, Tennessee State guard Bruce Price and members of the Gophers women’s basketball team.

Rickert played in Slovenia last year, but hopes to make the Minnesota Timberwolves roster this year.

He said Tucker has helped him improve his game and prepare for the NBA.

“He’s helped me out a lot,” Rickert said. “I don’t think I’d be as far along as I am right now if he hadn’t been working with me.”

Tucker not only provides valuable instruction for a few select players, but he also sets an awesome example for all University student-athletes, Maturi said.

“He’s the kind of person we need to get back and have talk to our student-athletes, because he’s a real-live example of a great player – one of the real greats – who realizes he needs that degree for the rest of his life,” Maturi said.

Working with Humphries and other Gophers players has also helped Tucker reconnect with his University roots.

“When Kris Humphries decided not to go to Duke and came to the University of Minnesota instead, that engaged me more into the program, because now I had someone who was directly involved in the program,” Tucker said.

A lot has changed

Tucker had to wake up early Monday through Friday for his 8 a.m. sports psychology class, but he said the most difficult part of going back to school was just making up his mind to do it.

A lot has changed since Tucker’s last stint as a University student.

He recalled waking up late on Saturday mornings and walking from his Territorial Hall dorm room to Gophers football games at Memorial Stadium, which has since been demolished.

The University has also switched from quarters to semesters.

And Tucker has to pay his own way this time around, because he is not on an athletics scholarship.

But perhaps the biggest change has been Tucker’s approach to his education.

“When I first arrived here 26 years ago, my thought process was more on playing basketball and working hard to become a basketball player,” he said. “Now, coming back, school is my first priority, and it’s something I’m doing on my own, so that makes it fun.”

Tucker said he doesn’t want to push himself too hard.

“I’m going to spread it out,” Tucker said. “I’m not going to rush myself back into it and try to finish everything all at once.”

Tucker, who took a sports psychology class and two independent study courses this summer, said he will probably graduate in spring or summer 2005.

Life after basketball

Tucker, once one of basketball’s top three-point shooters, said he no longer plays except for an occasional shooting contest with his pupils.

But Tucker remains in excellent physical shape, and he has not lost his competitiveness.

“I hate going to the gym and just working on the machines, running on the treadmill and riding the bikes,” he said. “I need a game to play.”

Nowadays, Tucker’s game of choice is tennis, which he plays three to four days a week.

In addition to working with college basketball players, Tucker keeps busy with his nonprofit organization, the Trent Tucker Foundation. The group mentors children and provides after-school programs.

The foundation’s biggest fund-raiser is its annual golf tournament, featuring celebrities such as Michael Jordan and Kevin Garnett. This year’s event will be held Sept. 11 at Rush Creek in Maple Grove, Minn.