Editor’s Note: Michael Schmitz is the latest ValleyoftheSuns contributor. Michael Schwartz did not just forget how to spell his name.
professional athlete: (noun) physical specimen involved in sports often associated with bling, guns, spinners, fancy whips, phat cribs, night clubs, tats, hoes, and Cristal.
Thanks to guys like Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest and Chris Henry, among others, this is the 2k9 definition of a professional athlete. The clubbin’, lavish lifestyles full of jail time and court dates are what fans have grown accustomed to seeing out of their favorite sports heroes.
Phoenix Suns guard Alando Tucker is one athlete who is able to escape this “get rich or die trying” lifestyle.
The soon to be third-year guard has yet to make the impact on the court that the Suns had hoped when they drafted him 29th overall in 2007. However, Tuck has changed the atmosphere of the Suns’ locker room with his attitude, work ethic, and never-ending charisma.
This work ethic and positive attitude stems from Alando’s childhood in the projects of Joliet-Lockport, Ill. Joliet-Lockport, a suburb of Chicago, was full of drugs and gang activity, causing Alando to see countless murders and drug wars as a young man.
In his Suns.com blog entry entitled “My Uncommon Habit,” Tucker explains, “I have friends that have died and even in college I’d hear every other week about a friend or someone I grew up with getting killed or dying. A lot of times we’d hear gunshots and be scared for our lives.”
To add to the turmoil in the neighborhood, Tucker did not have the ideal family situation. Alando grew up fatherless, raised by his mother, grandmother, and older brother Antonio. Alando also had the responsibility of raising two younger siblings, as his older brother left for the Army.
Many athletes have faced situations like Alando’s, but it is his reaction to the turmoil that separates him from others.
At age 10, Alando and brother Antonio pledged to never drink, smoke, or ink up their bodies. To this day, both Alando and Antonio have held true to their vows.
“Seeing all that violence and death up close at a young age, we vowed to be better than that and not get caught up in that,” Tucker wrote. “We said that we’d be different and we talked about how we had to move our family away from that situation.”
Through all of the violence and chaos, Tucker found an outlet through the game of basketball.
After four standout years at Lockport Township High School in Lockport, Ill., Tucker signed on to play for the Wisconsin Badgers.
In four years with the Badgers, Tucker became Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer on top of capturing the 2006-07 Big Ten Player of the Year award and All-American honors.
Although Tuck played at one of the top party schools in the nation, he stuck to his promise of sobriety.
“My freshman year we won the Big Ten title and all of the coaches and players were out … everybody was out and I was the only one not drinking … by the end of the night they bought me shots of Sprite.”
After a tremendous career at Wisconsin, Tuck was drafted by the Suns 29th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Alando appeared in only six games as a rookie, averaging 3.7 ppg in eight minutes of action. He spent most of his rookie campaign in the D-League playing for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, averaging 28.9 points in 10 games. Tucker was making strides heading into his second year as a pro, leading the Suns in scoring during the NBA Summer League with 21.6 ppg.
Tucker’s improved play translated into the preseason, as he was third on the Suns in scoring at 12.6 ppg. His progression hit a speed bump when it was clear that he needed arthroscopic knee surgery, setting him back two months into the 2008-09 NBA season.
Tucker still was able to appear in 30 games in 2008-09, averaging 4.6 ppg in 9.4 minutes. Due to the injury bug and change in coaching styles, Tuck was never able to get comfortable this last season.
Although Tucker was primarily a post player at Wisconsin, he has worked endless hours on his jump shot to stretch his once one-dimensional game to the three-point arc, shooting at a 35 percent clip from the land of plenty in 2008-09.
Tucker is on contract with the Suns for the 2009-10 season at $1.07 mil, and the Suns hold a team option for 2010-11 at $1.934 mil.
It is clear that Alando is not a cornerstone of the Phoenix Suns’ future, but a proven winner with a 6-foot-6, 205-pound frame and 38-inch vertical leap should eventually show some promise. To go along with Alando’s athleticism, his relentless work ethic and positive attitude make it hard to believe that he will not find his niche in the league.
Tuck still remains behind Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa on the depth chart at the two-guard position. However, with the Seven Seconds or Less strategy back in play, the Suns could use as many fresh bodies as possible. Alando also possesses the athleticism to be the perimeter defender that the Suns so desperately need.
The exciting thing about Alando is his impact on the game even when he doesn’t see the court. Tuck is clearly the Suns “hype man,” with his glowing charisma and never-ending energy. Tuck is always the first guy to give high fives during a timeout and always the first to stand and wave a towel after a Diesel throw down.
Yes energy from the bench is not exactly all that the Suns had hoped for from their former 29th overall pick, but Alando’s high character and determination could very well translate into something more than just a “hype man.”
As is evident by the Steve Nash-produced video “Superbadge,” Tuck has clearly found a home in Phoenix.
In a league built around statistics, highlights, and paychecks, Tucker’s qualities as a human being are often overlooked. He may never be a superstar in the NBA, but he brings an element to the Phoenix Suns that every NBA team could use.
Alando Tucker continues to work relentlessly on his game, while holding true to his obligations outside US Airways Center, leading a tattoo-less, sober lifestyle that almost no NBA star is ever able to achieve.