he's not building his case for national player of the year, Wisconsin forward
Alando Tucker will close his eyes and imagine the scene at the community center
he plans to open someday in his native Lockport, Ill., 35 miles southwest of
Chicago. An indoor basketball court. A grass field for football and baseball.
An asphalt track. Study carrels and computers for learning. And, not least, a
steady stream of children and adults from the neighborhood. "I want to have
every sport there to bring out the best in each kid, but I also want to base it
on academics," says Tucker.
will be for everyone in the community, including a fitness center for the older
generation. The idea is to feel safe in the area, because there's a lot of
Tucker is hardly
unique in wanting to build a community center in his hometown-- NBA star Carmelo
Anthony is the latest to have done so--but he may be the first athlete who put
together a detailed proposal for one while still in college. Last year Tucker,
a communications major, wrote a 19-page paper using the works of hoops
philanthropists Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson as models for his own project.
"He's already got a business plan in mind," says his academic adviser,
professor Larry Meiller. "I was impressed with the amount of thought he had
given to this for someone his age, and I don't mind telling you I gave him an A
for the paper. I really believe that at some point in his life there's going to
be a large facility that Alando will create and spend a lot of time in. He's
the kind of kid you hope all your students could be."
It's hard to
decide which of Tucker's manifold attributes is the most refreshing. Maybe it's
that the BMOC of Playboy's No. 1 party school is a State Street regular who
says he has kept a decadelong vow never to drink alcohol, smoke or get a
tattoo. Or that, eschewing the usual staples on most summer trips
abroad--hoops, video games, McDonald's--Tucker rallied his teammates during
last year's tour of Italy for early-morning visits to the Leaning Tower of Pisa
and the Colosseum in Rome. ("This is the chance of a lifetime!" he'd
scream.) Or maybe it's just that at a time when the best freshman class in a
decade has hogged nearly all the attention, this 22-year-old fifth-year senior
and leading candidate for player of the year knows what it means to have a
Tucker the best player in the country? Yes," argues Wisconsin coach Bo
Ryan, whose Badgers were 14--1 at week's end thanks in large part to Tucker's
20.6 points and 4.5 rebounds a game. "He has elevated this team with a
combination of rebounding and defense and offense, and he makes all the players
around him better. I'm prejudiced toward guys who've had to pay their dues,
maybe suffer through a few things and come out the way Alando is coming out
right now. He'll get national attention because he's earned it, just like they
said in the old [ Smith Barney] ads."
Kammron Taylor says the only Cheese State athlete bigger than Tucker these days
is Brett Favre, who may also be the only one who's more battered. Tucker has
broken his right foot twice and he fractured his nose last year, which forced
him to wear a mask. Only after Tucker underwent facial surgery in the
off-season was he able to start breathing through his nose again.
"Immediately after the surgery I could tell a difference," says Tucker.
"I have so much more energy this year, and I'm finally the player that I
know I could have been in previous years."
At 6'6" and
210 pounds, Tucker compensates for his size disadvantage down low with
surpassing quickness, Brew Country hops (he broke Michael Finley's school
record with a standing 38-inch vertical leap) and enough strength to
bench-press 360 pounds. Because Ryan's trendy swing offense requires nearly
every Badger to develop post moves, Tucker had to change the way he played upon
his arrival in Madison. "I came here never having posted up in high school,
but it didn't take me long to realize I could do a lot of damage in the
post," says Tucker. Which is not to say that he's ignoring his perimeter
game: He's shooting 33% from three-point range. Never was Tucker's versatility
more evident than during his 32-point (with three treys), 10-rebound tour de
force in an 89--75 win over then No. 2 Pittsburgh on Dec. 16.
double- and triple-teamed every game, and the numbers he's putting up are
unbelievable," says Taylor, "but he's also just a great leader."
Last summer Tucker was chosen to represent Wisconsin at a five-day meeting in
Orlando of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, a national leadership
organization. Likewise, Tucker has performed at so many public-speaking
functions in Madison that the university now has to screen his requests.
Ryan tells the
story of a recent engagement when he prepped Tucker by advising him to scan the
audience from left to right as a way of establishing a quick rapport. Tucker
brought the house down when he told the crowd of Ryan's advice and shook his
head. "Coach," he said, "it's my major!"
that easygoing confidence wherever he goes. He doesn't mind that 80% of the
campus (including, strangely, his roommate, Badgers forward Marcus Landry)
pronounces his name as a-LON-do when it's really a-LAN-do. Tucker laughs
whenever anyone cracks wise about his appearance on SI's season-preview cover,
which called him a "sidekick" to teammate Brian Butch. ("People
will say, 'How you doin', Sidekick?' 'What's up, Robin?'") And he literally
sings on the court, kicking off every Badgers pre-game huddle with lyrics from
Lil Wayne's Stuntin' Like My Daddy (Tucker: How you want it? Team: Show me my