By Vincent Nguyen
With just seconds left on the clock and his Maranatha boys’ basketball team leading in the Division 4A Southern Section CIF Finals, head coach Tim Tucker looks on as another free throw is made, ultimately securing the school’s very first CIF Championship plaque, his fifth title, and adding to an illustrious career as a high school basketball coach.
It was just another year for Tucker, whose two years as head coach of the Minutemen basketball program has paid off quickly with another CIF ring to add to his collection that already includes four titles as both player and coach and 15 league championships during his stint at Pasadena High.
He always plays for a championship, and after a second round exit in the 2013-2014 CIF playoffs against Harvard-Westlake, Tucker took a Maranatha team all the way to the CIF State semifinals.
“Winning is part of my blood,” stated Tucker, whose overall coaching record is a resounding 211-61. “It takes a long time to get over a loss, and losing to Crespi was hard. The next day I got back to work.”
It’s not hard to see why losing is out of the question for the Pasadena native. Born May 10, 1960, Tucker grew up in a competitive family, where his brother, George, was an All-American player at Pasadena High School and made it to the CIF finals twice in a row in 1972 and 1973.
The long-time coach grew up on Summit Avenue. Back then, it was the toughest street in Pasadena due to strong gang violence. Tucker’s parents saw it necessary to give him and his siblings a proper education and to preoccupy their time with activities to stray them away from any association with gang life.
When Tucker picked up where his brother left off at Pasadena High, the teenager looked up to Earl Monroe and his smooth and effortless play style to inspire him on the court, which led him to the CIF title twice in a row in 1977 and 1978.
The baller received a scholarship right out of high school to play for the University of Wyoming, but after two years, transferred back to California.
“I just couldn’t get used to the cold,” Tucker said about his college experience.
Tucker’s passion for the game resulted in a coaching job. He always understood the game well, and his basketball IQ carried on to the sidelines, managing players and strategies during games.
“I was told I was great,” Tucker said on his coaching experience. “But I knew I was just good.”
A student of the legendary coach George Terzian, Tucker took after his late mentor and implemented a defensive philosophy to his game plan. Tucker won his two CIF rings as a player under Terzian, and as a coach, carried on his tradition at PHS to win two more in his 18 seasons as a Bulldog.
“It’s a huge thing to go back to your alma mater,” Tucker said about returning to his hometown after several coaching stints at Los Angeles Valley College, Pasadena City College, and Cal State San Bernardino. “I wanted to come in and prove myself.”
Tucker believed in building a solid foundation for his alma mater and turning it into an elite program was why he coached there. He also loved the fact that kids recognize that is great.
After 18 years, Tucker stepped down as head coach for the Bulldogs and moved across town to Maranatha. The vacancy gave assistant coach and longtime friend Anthony Brooks a chance to become head coach and build his own team.
“I’ve known Tim since I was in the third grade,” Brooks said, whose brother was on the championship winning squad with Tucker. “By saying that, it’s a lifetime of experiences and times together and one thing I can say about Tuck and I is we never argued. It was always a collaboration, always a discussion, strategizing on what was going to be the best for our team.
“His knowledge of that time of the year makes him a very formidable coach to coach against in the playoffs.”
Brooks has led the Bulldogs to back-to-back league championships since Tucker’s departure, developing an overall 38-20 record in two seasons.
“One of the things I was most appreciative is that he gave me a lot of control and a lot of leeway even though he was the head coach,” Brooks said. “Obviously he’s taking the responsibility for everything, [but] he delegated to his assistant coaches a lot of responsibility and that’s how I am able to step in as a head coach and not have any jitters but just step right up.”
Being familiar with the game and its tactics is one thing, but following up with players and faculty is another. Tucker is able to blend both and not only be a manager of the team, but a player’s coach as well. Gamal Smalley, Tucker’s longtime friend and current assistant coach at Maranatha, and his son Zachary, who plays guard for the school, feel exactly that.
“The Tucker family was part of our city’s basketball royalty and our friendship continued through the years as he coached my eldest son at Pasadena High,” Coach Smalley said. “It was also Coach Tuck who encouraged me to take the head coaching job at John Muir High and we enjoyed some epic battles coaching against each other. Thus it was an odd position for me when I found myself encouraging him to take the coaching job at Maranatha where my youngest son Zachary had just completed his freshman year on varsity. Coach Tuck and Zach go way back to his toddler years when he wore one of Tuck’s basketball T-shirts that draped the floor in diapers as he tried to participate in the drills.”
For now, the coach looks to claim something that has eluded him over the years – a state title. He’s lost in the same round four times, and with the competitive blood in his veins, will look to tackle next season with the same goal: win state.
“Coach Tuck accepts the challenge and expects nothing less than a championship,” Smalley said. “He is a go-getter who puts together some of the best tournaments in Southern California. This season was an incredible ride and we are looking forward to the next chapter during the 2015-2016 season.”
In the meantime, Maranatha’s boys’ basketball will host a block party on June 15 through June 20 to feature Southern California’s best players, before the season starts up again in the fall.