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Feature

Trent Tucker

Trent Tucker finally earned his degree from the U, 23 years after he left to play professional basketball.

NBA star earns U degree after a 23-year hiatus

Trent Tucker will speak about his experiences returning to school on Feb. 6

By Megan Rocker

Feb. 2, 2007

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Trent Tucker realized how lucky he was to have positive role models in his life. "My parents taught me early on the importance of making positive choices and having a support system," he says. Even so, "growing up, college wasn't something that was really in my plans. Every day, I was faced with negative [situations]; drugs, alcohol, and other tragic events." But thanks to his parents and other adult influences, Tucker didn't fall prey to many of the things that plagued his peers. His father, a part-time carpenter and employee at General Motors, and his mother, a homemaker, fostered a strong sense of community values and stressed the importance of education. They also encouraged his athletic pursuits. At age seven, he first picked up a basketball--and immediately found his calling. "When I started receiving college recruiting letters in the 10th grade, I realized basketball would give me the opportunity to go on to college," says Tucker. After much consideration, Tucker chose the University of Minnesota, and in 1978 became a student athlete. At the U, Tucker became interested in courses dealing with law, policy and criminal justice. As someone who had been faced with many difficult decisions and choices growing up, he also was intrigued with people's decision-making processes and the role of an individual's environment and upbringing on future choices. "The U...instill[ed] knowledge [I] would utilize in the years to come," he says. "I enjoyed taking classes where I could communicate and debate with my classmates about issues I had life experiences with."

Trent talks

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, Trent Tucker will talk about his decision to return to school as an adult and his life after basketball in a free event sponsored by the College of Continuing Education at the McNamara Alumni Center on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. A free career workshop and a continuing education fair will follow.

"Basketball had been so good to me for so many years," says Tucker. "But after basketball was over I knew that if I wanted to get into something else, education would be the right way to go. There's so many other wonderful fields that you can explore but without that education those things would not be possible."

To RSVP for the event and to view a video clip of Trent Tucker, visit the College of Continuing Education.

For Tucker, as for many people, college is direct preparation for a future career. Unlike most people, however, Tucker's career aspirations were to play in the NBA. After leading the Gophers to a Big Ten championship in 1982, Tucker left the U and entered the NBA draft, where he was selected in the first round by the New York Knicks. What followed was a highly successful 11-year professional basketball career. Known as one of the greatest three-point-shooters in basketball history, Tucker also played with the San Antonio Spurs and the Chicago Bulls--with whom he won a championship ring in 1993. Despite his successes on the court, however, Tucker never forgot where he came from. "[I was] motivated to use my celebrity to help those who were less fortunate," explains Tucker. "It was a natural progression for me, really, because I realized I couldn't have made it to where I was without the opportunities that had been given to me...I felt it was important to educate our youth and make them understand...there is a bigger picture out there for them to see." Not long after going pro, Tucker began donating his time and his support to youth organizations. He founded the Trent Tucker Basketball camp for youth in the mid-1980s, and in 1998, a few years after his retirement from the NBA, he founded the Trent Tucker Non-Profit Organization. The organization, and its division, the Trent Tucker Youth Program (established in 2001), are designed to help urban youth maximize their abilities, make positive choices, and realize their potential. It was working with kids and his nonprofits that made Tucker realize that he wanted to go back to school to finish his degree--more than two decades after his last stint in the classroom. "I was lucky to be able to play sports at the highest level," he says. "But I knew that an education would be able to take me places basketball couldn't. It would give me the credentials to do different types of things I'd love to do--coaching college basketball, working with kids." So in 2004, after a 23-year hiatus, Tucker returned to the U of M to get his degree. Seeking something that built upon the human service course work he had been interested in his initial degree studies, he enrolled in the College of Continuing Education's Inter-College Program (ICP), an interdisciplinary, self-designed bachelor's degree program that draws course work from across the University's colleges and departments. "The [ICP] allowed me to further my education in things I'm involved with, and enjoy doing--like working with my youth programs," says Tucker. "In it, you're able to build a degree that fits you. I didn't have to fall into a certain category and I could study things that were important to me, and my career after basketball."

"I remember that first day I walked in and sat down and the students kind of looked at me for a minute, like they were thinking 'what's HE doing here?'...," says Trent Tucker.

Still, returning to the classroom as an adult was not easy--even for a former professional athlete and celebrity. "It was a challenge. Walking into a classroom after so many years...looking around and asking myself, 'Do I fit in here?', 'Do I belong?', 'Can I cope?'. I remember," Tucker laughs, "that first day I walked in and sat down and the students kind of looked at me for a minute, like they were thinking 'what's HE doing here?', and then one of them asked 'are you the professor?' And I just kind of laughed and told them I hadn't quite achieved that status--yet." Tucker says he enjoyed the challenge of going back to school, testing his limits, and especially meeting and working with his fellow students and professors. "You're never too old to learn, to grow," he says. "I loved the program; I had a ball. And to have a degree from the U of M? That's a special thing." In 2005, Tucker graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology of communications in human services, specializing in youth psychology. It's a degree he puts to use daily, both in his nonprofit organizations and in his continued involvement with basketball. "This degree gave me a chance to do different things that I truly enjoy doing. It's given me an even better understanding of how to reach kids and communicate with them."