P.J. Tucker went from the NBA to playing for seven different teams overseas, and now the small forward is at the point of his career where he look back and be thankful for the lessons learned along the way.
In the 2006 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors selected P.J. Tucker in the second round (35th overall) out of the University of Texas. The small forward and former Big-12 Player of the Year appeared in 17 games for Toronto in two seasons, and also spent 19 games with their D-League affiliate, the Colorado 14ers.
And like that, he was gone.
Waived by the Raptors in March 2007, Tucker ventured off on a basketball world tour that's included an Israeli League championship and MVP honors with Hapoel Holon, playing in the Ukraine, back to Israel, Greece, Italy and Puerto Rico before joining two-time defending Beko BBL champs Brose Baskets Bamberg in Germany this season.
An MVP candidate, Tucker (who goes by his birth name, Anthony Tucker in Germany) helped lead Bamberg to the German Cup this season and is averaging 14.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 28 games.
As another season overseas draws to a close, Tucker considers where he's been, where he wants to go, and how he's grown as a pro since leaving the NBA...
If I have a crazy story about my time playing overseas, there is no doubt it comes from my time in the Ukraine with BK Donetsk.
We were the top team in the Ukraine and we were playing on the road against a smaller team. We knew going into the game it was going to be nuts, a crazy scene -- a small gym with very passionate fans. The place was packed. People were standing on top of each other basically. It was unreal. Our owner was best friends with the owner of the other team and I can remember getting ready before the game. I'm standing in the locker room and our owner comes in with his security guys. It had to be like three or four guys, and I'm wondering what the hell is going on.
Everyone is looking at our owner. He walks to the middle of the locker room and drops a duffle bag on the floor. He opens it up and it is stuffed with money. It was the most amounts of cash I have ever seen. We are talking stuffed with money. The owner didn't speak any English and at the time I had a translator that went with me wherever I went. So, he translates and tells me how if we go out and win the game, every player gets $10,000. Man, we went and smashed that team by like 50-points and in the locker room after the game there were wads of cash everywhere.
It's been an unreal experience coming overseas, but that was the craziest by far. It's hard to believe I've played for seven different teams now since leaving the NBA in 2007.
Toronto feels like forever ago because I've dealt with so many teams since then.
Coming out of college I was an All-American and Big-12 Player of the Year and you expect so much when you finally get to the NBA, but you don't understand what it takes to be a professional and the aspects of the game that come with it. You think you are going to come in and take someone's spot and play a certain amount of minutes and it's really not like that. Now that I've been around and been in the league I try to teach the younger guys, because while I had guys around me in Toronto, no one really explained those parts of the league to me. That was one of my biggest falls of leaving the NBA -- I was out of an island a little bit and really immature. It is a process.
The way I look at it now, I've grown up so much since then as a pro. It's unbelievable.
Hearing from Toronto that they wanted me to go down to the D-League was like hearing my career was over. And instead of accepting it and go down there and work, I went down to the D-League and was not interested at all. I was not playing hard. It was like being demoted and like I said, being young-minded as I was I didn't capitalize on going down to the D-League and getting better. That hurt me. It really did. The Raptors had scouts coming to every game and I know they were watching me to rate my development, so looking back on it I know I didn't make the best out of the opportunity. I didn't take it all in.
I'm one of the realist players there is with myself. So until guys can become real with themselves and look at their careers and ask, ‘where did I mess up', it's only then that they can admit they could have handled a situation better. That way, going forward you know how the make the most out of each situation.
At 26-years-old, I'm just hitting my prime and have a lot of game left. My game has really involved. I feel that my game has always been versatile, but now I'm able to play multiple positions, play better defense and my shot has gotten better. All around my game has improved and it's from being here. And that's what I tell a lot of young guys -- if you get the chance to come to Europe and play and get better, your game will change so much and you will mature as a player.
It's funny, I wasn't really in a hurry to get back to the NBA knowing what kind of contract I would receive versus the situation overseas. On the other hand, times are different now. I have kids of my own and am making strides to get back to the NBA. Each year I get four or five offers to go to training camp on a non-guaranteed deal, but that is hard to accept if there is a guaranteed contract over here. That is very tough to turn down. Because in the NBA, you have to look over your shoulder every day.
What have a learned the most since being overseas? This game is a business regardless where you play. During the lockout for example, you had guys coming overseas probably thinking it was going to be easy coming over here to play in Europe and make a bunch of money. But the way the business is over here, you have to prove yourself before making any real money. Then guys get over here and find out the game is played differently than what they thought.
Very few guys come over here and it just clicks for them. Very few. Guys come overseas to play, but then they are out of here very fast because they struggle to adjust or teams don't get what they pay for. There are not a lot of guys who can come over here and make a good career.
It's been a season in Germany where I've grown more comfortable with the team here in Bamberg. With guys like Casey Jacobsen and Marcus Slaughter, this isn't a team where you try to come in and take over. You have to find your role and I'm feeling really good about that. It took me a few months, but this isn't a team where you come in and are ‘the guy'. I've been on teams where I've been ‘the guy' and your teammates look to you to get the job done and it's been like that for the last three years.
It's part of basketball.
I've accepted that challenge.