When Morgan Tuck took on her first role at Bolingbrook, coach Anthony Smith recognized the traits he'd rave about for years to come. She was humble, worked hard, had enthusiasm.
She was a great water girl.
Tuck probably could have started at Bolingbrook as an eighth-grader if that were an option, but she jumped at the chance to hydrate the Raiders, which included older sister Taylor. During the next five years, Tuck helped Bolingbrook rise from a budding success story to a full-grown dynasty.
The Raiders lost nine games in her four years as a player and won three state championships, missing a chance at a fourth only after a four-overtime loss to eventual Class 4A champion Young this season.
The 6-foot-2 Tuck became one of the most respected players in Illinois, first winning the Ms. Basketball of Illinois award as a 14-year-old in 2009 and — to come full circle — earning the votes of coaches and media in Illinois again in 2012 after averaging 27.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.4 assists in her senior season.
Tuck will receive her award, which is presented by the Chicago Tribune in conjunction with the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, on April 28 in Normal.
She joins Naperville Central'sCandace Parker (2002-2004) and Marshall's Cappie Pondexter (2000, 2001) as the only players in state history to win the award more than once. As she sat in a seat high above the United Center court Tuesday preparing for the McDonald's All-American game, it was clear just how far she'd come since her time filling cups of water.
More muscular and more confident than the freshman who won the award, she was not shy about vocalizing her desire for greatness at Connecticut. She didn't hesitate to drop the letters WNBA into a conversation.
"You want to be one of those people that everyone remembers that went to UConn and the WNBA," Tuck said. "I don't want to sound like I'm cocky, saying that's what I want to be, but you have to have your goals and know what you have to do to reach it."
It started with a 3-year-old's goal to dance with her sister.
Her comfort zone
Morgan cried outside the window of Taylor's dance class until the instructor finally gave into the younger sister's tears, unknowingly setting in motion 14 years of sister bonding.
From then on, no matter whether the activity was volleyball or soccer or, eventually, basketball, precocious Morgan moved up a grade level to play with her sister.
Morgan calls Taylor the biggest influence of her basketball career.
Taylor's victories in one-on-one games they as children fueled the desire to improve. Morgan's drive and Taylor's maturity and honest guidance provided an ideal balance during Bolingbrook's three championship seasons.
"The times I wasn't playing with her were very different," Morgan said. "I'm not used to playing a whole season without her there. I had someone to go home with to say, 'Oh, I hate this in practice. Today was a bad day.' Last year in the state game, when she was hurt, that's when I realized she is a big reason for why I continue to play and why I'm driven to do this."
The separation that followed Taylor's departure to be a freshman on Illinois' basketball team this season forced Morgan to take on a leadership role she had always left to her older sister.
"It was a challenge not having (Taylor) as her buffer," said their father, David Tuck. "But it allowed her to spread her wings and forced her to get out of her comfort zone."
Smith also was on hand to make sure she didn't stay too comfortable.
Refusing to settle
Smith first recognized Tuck was special when the freshman finished sprint drills with his fastest players, a rarity for a forward, and the gauntlet was thrown with the first Ms. Basketball award. Tuck didn't want to be the player who peaked after her freshman season. Smith didn't want to be the coach who let his player settle.
"She was coming here to be great. Not just good, not just average," Smith said. "She wanted to go to a top school in the country. She wants to be a pro. Every day I reminded her of that. She had the talent to do it, and I wasn't going to let her cheat it."
For Tuck, motivation often was delivered as a loud earful of reprimands. Smith and Tuck's parents kept an unofficial gauge on her mindset. Smith texted her parents if she had been lazy in practice. Her parents texted him if she was too frustrated.
"Freshman year, it was, 'Why is he always yelling at me? I'm not even doing anything wrong. I'm just always getting yelled at,'" Tuck said. "Now I see it as if he didn't do that, how would my game be different? The yelling pushes me. ... All the yelling and screaming paid off in the end."
While Smith notes efficiency as Tuck's greatest improvement over four years, Tuck points to mental strength, something she began developing while coming back from a torn ACL before her sophomore season.
She thinks that fortitude will help her next with another intimidating coach — Connecticut's Geno Auriemma — but first she had to let go of a tough end to her high school career.
Late at night on Feb. 27, Tuck escaped to the locker room alone to collect herself before facing family and friends. She had 19 points and 15 rebounds against Young in a Class 4A supersectional, but Bolingbrook lost in four overtimes, the lone playoff blemish in Tuck's high school career.
"I hate losing, so to lose senior year in your last high school game, that's not a good memory to have," Tuck said. "But talking to my parents and different people, who have seen me grow up as a person, they put it in perspective. They said, 'You did something great that a lot of people can't do. You have to look at the big picture.'"
The big picture is moving on.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun