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Former Maryland men's basketball player Cliff Tucker is killed at age 29 in car accident

Former Maryland men’s basketball player Cliff Tucker was killed in a single-vehicle accident Monday morning in Southwest Texas, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Tucker was one of three people who died on Interstate 10, 3 miles west of Balmorhea, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a release. Tucker was traveling to his hometown of El Paso from San Antonio, local TV station CBS4 reported.

Investigators said that after about 11 a.m. Monday, the tread on the right rear tire of the van Tucker that was riding in separated, causing the vehicle to lose control and roll. Tucker, who was not wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said, as were passengers Amanda Akaji, 25, also of El Paso, and Andrew C. Akaji, 29, of Florida. Genesis B. Soto, 29, and Andrea Soto, 3, of El Paso were also hospitalized with "incapacitating injuries." Only the driver, Joseph Kennerly III, 34, of Virginia, and another passenger, Marcus R. Lovelace, 22, of Louisiana were wearing seatbelts, according to the DPS.

Tucker, who played for the Terps from 2007 through 2011 and was part of the 2009-10 team that tied Duke for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, was 29.

“He was one of those guys that when you coached them — he’d do stuff to make you mad, I think he did it on purpose,” then-coach Gary Williams said in an emotional interview Monday night. “But you couldn’t stay mad at him. He had that smile. He had a genuine great sense of humor, and I think he was popular with the other players."

Tucker played in 131 games over four years. As a senior in 2010-11, the final season of Williams' 22-year coaching career at his alma mater, Tucker averaged a career-high 9.6 points in a little over 22 minutes a game. He led the Terps that year in 3-point shots made with 41.

“Cliff could play, he was a legit guard in the ACC, and the ACC was really good that year,” Williams said of the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Tucker.

It was a 3-point shot Tucker made as a junior that Maryland fans still remember. Called at the time the biggest 3-pointer since Drew Nicholas beat UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament when the Terps were defending national champions, Tucker’s basket beat Georgia Tech in overtime.

Tucker’s shot came after the team’s star, Greivis Vásquez, hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer that was waved off when one of the game officials thought he heard Williams call timeout. It was actually assistant coach Keith Booth who had yelled “timeout” to the ref.

Then came Tucker’s game-winner.

“It was at least 25 feet, it down that sideline across from the bench,” Williams said. “Eric Hayes made a great pass to drop it over the defensive player.”

The victory helped propel the Terps into contention for the ACC regular-season title, a share of which was clinched with a victory over the Blue Devils on senior night.

“I think that team got overlooked,” Williams said. “We tied with Duke, which won the national championship. That became a good basketball team. … We weren’t a big team, but we were good, and Cliff was a big part of that.”

Williams said that because Tucker wanted to play both basketball and football in college, Maryland had to wait awhile before he signed. Tucker, who participated in spring practice with the Terps in 2011, eventually fulfilled his dream by signing as a graduate transfer for the UTEP football team after finishing in College Park.

“At El Paso they told him he could play both [before he went to college],” Williams recalled.

Tucker played overseas for several years — including splitting time in Hungary, Germany and the Dominican Republic in 2015 — and returned to his hometown to hold a basketball camp in El Paso two summers ago.

“I went to a whole bunch of camps as a little kid growing up in El Paso. That's how you learn basketball. I never thought I'd be in this position to give back," Tucker told a local televison station.

Said Williams: “He was a good guy. A good guy.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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