PHOENIX — Suns forwards Shavlik Randolph and P.J. Tucker are in the spotlight of playing with each other in basketball arenas packed with thousands of people, a very reminiscent scene to their high school days. Yes, spotlight, packed basketball arenas and high school go together in the case of the two current teammates.
Randolph and Tucker grew up playing in the North Carolina hotbed of high school basketball. The two went to rival high schools, each filled with tradition, and both were highly-touted recruits — Randolph was considered the top prospect in the 2002 class.
But their journey together starts earlier than that.
The two were teammates at Daniels Middle School in Raleigh. Randolph, a year older than Tucker, developed a friendship with Tucker that lasted throughout their high school rivalry and is still going today. Randolph’s recollection of Tucker as a youngster is pretty similar to how we would describe him today.
“He actually was a 7th grader when I was an 8th grader, and I had been on the team for a year,” Randolph said. “He was just this hungry little kid going at me every day at practice, wanting to go 1-on-1, talking trash. He didn’t play a lot that year, but he made everyone’s life miserable in practice.”
Being the young little guy, Tucker looked up to the bigger Randolph, who already had the spotlight of being an up and coming NBA prospect.
“Shav (Randolph) was the man,” Tucker said. “He was the biggest player in high school. People were talking about him already then.”
“I was a 6th grader and was playing 5th quarter for the kids not so good. Every game I played 5th quarter, and I looked up to him. When we got to high school it was different because I got better, so we were both the best players in our classes, so our high schools were rivals and we had big clashes.”
Big clashes may even be an understatement.
Randolph attended Broughton High School, which is home to former NBA legend Pistol Pete Maravich. The lanky 6-foot-10 forward has the majority of the school’s scoring records, including points in a single game. He passed Maravich’s 47-point record with a 50-point outburst. It is an honor that Randolph called humbling at the time and still is today.
“I don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as him,” Randolph said. “I know I’m not worthy to be mentioned in same breath, but for one night and a couple years in high school, I was able to take some of his records down.”
Performances like that only added to the legend of Randolph, who was recruited by every school in the nation.
He has crazy recruiting stories to prove it. From Billy Donovan flying to his high school just to wave ‘hello’ from the parking lot, to Michael Jordan taking and then sending a picture of himself wearing Randolph’s jersey, asking him to play for North Carolina, Randolph saw it all.
Randolph routinely played in overflowing gyms that caused his team to eventually move their games to bigger arenas. One game even attracted more than 12,000 people.
Down the road, Tucker had his own thing going at William G. Enloe High School, also located in Raleigh. Tucker was a highly sought after recruit himself. He became the first high school player in the state of North Carolina to grab 30 rebounds in a game, something that he did again a few nights later. He also won the state’s Player of the Year award as a junior, an award some guy named Chris Paul took from him his senior year.
The high profiles of Randolph and Tucker only added to the rivalry of their schools, which was described as being at the same level of the Duke and North Carolina rivalry in college basketball.
Randolph’s memory of a particular matchup can be applied for most of the games.
“There was one game before they started moving our games to bigger arenas, people hanging from the windows, standing room only and the game was coming down to the wire,” Randolph said. “P.J. and I weren’t guarding each other, but by the end of the game we were just going at it. He is so strong I always hated playing against him, I could never post up on him because of how strong he is.”
Tucker said he and Randolph would average over 30 points a game played in front of everyone that was anybody.
“When we played each other, it would be the who’s who of coaches at every game that we played at — it was crazy,” Tucker said.
Tucker and Randolph took different paths once graduating high school.
It was long assumed that Randolph would play for Herb Sendek at N.C. State, where his grandfather has his jersey retired in the rafters. Late in the recruiting process, he surprised a lot of people by deciding to play for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. The lure of playing for one of the greatest coaches in college basketball was too much to pass up.
Randolph played three years at Duke before deciding to go professional. He went undrafted and never found a long-term role in the NBA, bouncing around a few teams. He last played overseas in China before signing with the Suns.
Tucker went on to star at Texas for three years before he entered the draft and was selected in the second round. After brief stint with Toronto his rookie year, Tucker spent many years abroad before finding a role with the Suns last year thanks to fellow Texas alum, former Suns general manager Lance Blanks.
With Randolph having signed as a free agent last week, he and Tucker are now reunited for the first time since those epic days in high school.
As for who won the majority of those games:
“I will let him tell you who won the battles,” Randolph said of Tucker with a wide grin.
“OK, yeah, he won his fair share,” Tucker gloomily responded.