Trinette Tucker cruises the campus of Towson State in her blue 1992 Eagle Summit. Her trademark smile beams as she relaxes to the sound of a Bob Marley tape.
She enjoys her sports management classes. Yesterday, she was named the Big South Player of the Year as a sophomore forward/guard for the Tigers, leading the conference with 19.7 points a game.
It seems as if Tucker, 20, has had it easy.
Quite the contrary.
"Trinette would sometimes say things like: 'Gosh, I can't believe I'm 15 years old. I never thought I'd turn 15,' " said Linda Jones, Tucker's coach at South Lakes High in Reston, Va.
When Tucker was 13, a Fairfax, Va., court ordered her to be removed from her grandmother's home, where Tucker said drug and alcohol abuse was rampant, and placed in foster care. The people Tucker had thought were her parents were actually her grandparents, and the woman she thought was her sister turned out to be her mother.
When Tucker was 15, Jones and South Lakes assistant coach Jackie Funk became her legal guardians.
Tucker is reluctant to talk about her family. She said that she does not have a relationship with her mother but that she occasionally communicates with her grandmother. She's closer to her father, whom she first met two years ago.
"Playing basketball has been her way to deal with things," Jones said. "Basketball is the only positive thing in her life that's taking care of everything else. She sees basketball as her steppingstone for real life. She smiles and deals with things better now."
LTC Basketball was easy to deal with at South Lakes, where she was an all-state player her senior year. Recruited by Towson State, Syracuse, East Carolina and Fairfield, she signed with Fairfield. She averaged 3.1 points and 1.7 rebounds as a freshman and made the 1993 Olympic Festival team that summer.
"I worked hard on my game and I was looking forward to my sophomore season," said Tucker, who plays guard and forward.
Then the problems began.
"There was a lot of 'he said, she said' stuff," Tucker said. "Just attitudes. They [teammates] said I thought I was better than everyone else on the team after I came back from the Olympic Fest."
Tucker said she talked with Fairfield coach Diane Nolan about it, but said she received support from only two teammates. Nolan could not be reached for comment.
"I told her [Nolan] that I was having problems . . things were not working out the way I wanted them to and that I was homesick," Tucker said, declining to elaborate. "I think it's better kept between me and Diane."
Tucker decided to transfer to Towson State.
"We were upset we lost her to Fairfield," said Towson State coach Ellen Fitzkee, "but we are pleased to have her now. She's an all-around, versatile, team player. We have a lot to offer Trinette on and off court."
And Tucker has a lot to offer, too. Towson State was 1-7 before she became eligible to play in December. The Tigers are 13-6 in games Tucker has played, and she has had three 30-point games, all Tigers road wins.
Tucker said the move has worked out well. The only drawback was having to sit out last season as a transfer.
She became eligible after the first semester this season and scored 10 points in her first game for the Tigers, a 74-60 loss to St. Joseph's.
"I was happy but nervous before the game," she said. "I had the jitters in the first half," said Tucker, nicknamed "T." "I kept thinking, 'It's been a year and a half since I've played.' After halftime, I thought I had to just play and not be scared."
Now, she is confident and focused. Her quick release, the near-perfect rotation on her jump shot and her aggressive defense helped Towson State finish second to UNC-Greensboro in the Big South. The Tigers, who face Liberty today in the Big South tournament, were picked to finish fifth in the preseason.
"Trinette is a perfectionist," said Fitzkee. "As she improves, others on the team will get better."
"I'm happy here," said Tucker. "I don't regret coming here. I have a strong faith in God, and I credit God and my work ethic for getting me this far."