Ottawa Pirates star Myles Tucker was given some motivation and advice by his coaches at halftime of their game versus Sycamore in early January.
"The first half I had five points, and I'd been playing really bad before that game," Tucker said, "and then (head coach Mark Cooper) had a talk with me and said, 'You need to pick it up, because we need you.' And (sophomore coach Bob Bartman) also had a talk with me and was like, 'We know you can play, just do what you need to do — when your shot's not on, just drive, because nobody can guard you when you drive.'
"And I was tired of playing really bad and not producing for the team, so I just came out with the mindset of I want to win."
Tucker proceeded to score 32 points in the second half — rallying the Pirates back from a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit and to the conference road "W."
As Tucker stated following that breakout performance there indeed was "more to come."
Such as ...
Back-to-back 30-or-more-point performances the next two games.
A 27-point, 15-rebound, 6-assist effort vs. archrival La Salle-Peru.
A buzzer-beating, game-winning trey in the regional semifinals vs. rival Streator.
And capped off with a 28-point showing — including seven 3-pointers — against state-ranked Rock Island in the regional title contest.
Just to highlight a handful.
For the season, the high-scoring and playmaking senior point guard produced per-game norms of 20.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals — all team-bests for Ottawa, which went 17-12 this past winter.
Tucker — a Class 3A all-state mentionee by the AP and IBCA — is The Times 2019-20 Boys Basketball Player of the Year. His brother, McKe, was the recipient of the award in 2016-17.
"It was just like an overall weird season — interesting," Tucker said, "but I still had fun; it was a good season.
"We came up short (against Rocky in the regional final), but it was still fun playing in a game like that and being close to a team like that. I think I could have played better (this season), but, overall, I liked how I played."
Tucker had to overcome injuries — his ankle twice, sidelining him for six games, and shoulder (one game) — for the first time. He admitted having fear of re-injuring himself, thus limiting his abilities.
"I spent a lot of time in the gym — just work, work, work," said Tucker, who added he had a new appreciation for the game while being out. "The recovery was very hard ... getting back into the flow was very hard."
"(Myles) got off to a very slow start with his ankle injury and missing three-plus weeks and a number of games, and then when he did come back later in December he had lost most of his conditioning and wasn't able to play at the level that he was capable of playing at," Cooper said.
"And then in January, he started to get into a little better shape and was able to become a dominant figure in a lot of games. From that point on, offensively he did a lot of good things."
Tucker's offensive onslaught began the initial game of the new year when he put up a career-high 37 points vs. Sycamore. During the 2020 portion of the schedule, he averaged 23.6 ppg — topping the 20-point mark 10 times and reaching/surpassing the 30-point threshold on five occasions in 16 games.
"The Sycamore game, I just felt comfortable, like I could be back to myself again," Tucker said.
"I had to dominate, because I knew if I would have had a bad second half (of the season) I wouldn't forgive myself at all."
"We saw last summer that there were times when (Myles) put up a lot of points in halves on a number of occasions against good people, so we knew (the scoring capabilities were) there," Cooper said. "We always knew there was another gear there, a place offensively he could get to that would make him a tough cover.
"For the first half of the season he didn't have his normal explosiveness because he had a severe ankle sprain, but once he got in better shape and got some of that explosiveness back the second half of the season, he was able to have some stretches where he was playing on a different level offensively.
"I thought this season — once he became healthy — he didn't become so dependent on just taking 3-point shots. On more of a regular basis he would try to get to the rim and make a play downhill. Obviously he has a high level of athleticism, but he worked hard in the weight room and got stronger, and that just made him a little more difficult to guard."
Cooper also noted Tucker shooting 70% from the charity stripe — nearly a 17% increase from the previous two seasons.
"I mean, obviously he shot the ball well at times, but he was still at his best when he was getting in the lane and creating offense for himself and others," Cooper said. "Myles has very good vision. ... When Myles was at his best, it was when he was rebounding on the defensive end; that triggered us in transition as well. We weren't going to be pressed either, because he had the ability when people got up into him to go by them."
Tucker's POY moment came at Sellett Gym in La Salle during the waning seconds of the Pirates' regional semi against Streator. With Ottawa trailing by two, he took an inbounds pass, and while fading away lofted a 3 that found nothing but the bottom of the net as the horn sounded.
"In that situation, the first thing you have to look for is somebody that can get a shot off; Myles could always get a shot off," Cooper said. "And there's just not many kids that would have had that type of physical strength and athleticism to be able to get that shot off."
Simply put, Tucker was a flat-out bucket-getter during his three seasons in the Crimson and White. He totaled 1,157 points (14.6 per game) — ninth all-time in school history — and made 151 3s (second most).
"(Myles) was kind of a binge scorer; he could score a lot of points in a short period of time. He had that kind of firepower," Cooper said. "There would be times when he could just carry us offensively."
Tucker has a couple of JUCO offers, courtesy of North Iowa Area Community College and Sauk Valley CC. Cooper believes Tucker possesses the physical strength and athleticism required to play at the next level.
Tucker believes he's matured since entering the OHS hoops program as a flamboyant ninth-grader.
"When I came into the program, I didn't want to listen to the coaches," Tucker said, "but now I realize that they're doing what's best for me, trying to help me out to be a better player than what I am.
"I've learned a lot in the program at Ottawa."
"Myles played a lot of minutes of Ottawa varsity basketball the last three years, and he's done a lot of good things and been a key part of a lot of big wins for the program," Cooper said.
"Obviously, the Good Lord gifted Myles with a lot of athletic ability, but he's worked very hard to be able to do some of the things that he's been able to do."
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