Tucker: Power of Barkley, Finesse of Caron Butler

<B>P.J. Tucker</b>, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina averaging 26 points, 17 boards, a few blocks and assists per game, certainly knows his hoops. Start talking basketball with him and a 15-minute conversation can turn into an hour-long chat about strategy, stats, and basketball stars. What he didn't know was how much he'd fall in love with Austin, Texas, <B>Rick Barnes</b> and the Longhorn basketball team.

"You know, I'm not going to lie to you," said Tucker. "When I went to Austin, Texas, I wasn't expecting much. I knew I was coming down to be shown around a little bit and didn't expect to make a commitment. But, when I got down there and started meeting the coaches, meeting the players and getting around the campus, I fell in love with it. Everything was great! Before, I was thinking I didn't want to be this far away from home, but the comfort level and love I felt from everybody was just great."

Alicia Tucker, P.J.'s mom, felt the same. "My husband, son and I all came down for the visit and thought Austin was just beautiful," she said. "The capitol was beautiful too. There's just a lot of excitement. We went to the football game and that stadium was just so big and the fans were great. And Coach Barnes makes me feel good about sending my son to Texas."

Getting a top-notch recruit to visit is the first step, but selling your program and gaining a commitment is the ultimate task. Perhaps Barnes possesses qualities similar to those that Mack Brown is often lauded for.

"Coach Barnes is a jokester off the court," Tucker said. "Man, he'll have you smiling from ear-to-ear and I mean the whole time he's off the court. But when it's time to get in-between the lines, it's all business. He's just a great guy. I saw him as the guy I wanted to call Coach. Now, in practice he'll get after you, because to be the best, you've got to work hard. At the same time, he cares about you. It's just family there -- all of those (Horn basketball team) guys.

P. J.'s guides were James Thomas and T. J. Ford but he also said he spent a good portion of his time around the entire basketball team.

Barnes' commitment to play excellent defense coupled with his physical brand of basketball is as much a part of his style as it is becoming the Big 12 conference's forte. The nation's 14th-ranked power forward has the ideal game, but is he ready to compete in arguably the toughest conference in the nation? "That's another reason why I wanted to play for Rick Barnes," said Tucker. "I think the Big 12 will be the best conference in the country this year and I wanted to play for the best. They've got three teams in the top 10 with Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. And then you've still got Texas Tech on the rise with Coach Knight and Missouri is pretty good. Then, you've got Iowa State and Oklahoma State. And playing Oklahoma State in that gym (Gallagher-Iba) might just be one of the toughest places to play. It's like 16,000 people just sitting right on top of you."

When asked if he will play the 3 or 4 for Barnes, the 2nd-team all-state pick said, "Probably both."

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound SF/PF likens his game to a couple of well-known basketball players. "My game is a cross between Charles Barkley (retired Rocket/Sun/76'er) and Caron Butler (Miami Heat rookie)," said Tucker. "I've got the power of Barkley, the finesse of Butler and the intensity of both. My strengths are getting rebounds, playing defense, and low post game. The post has always been my 'bread and butter'. I can back you down, face-up or take you to the hole. My weaknesses are long-range jumpers and I need to become a better shooter."

Before spraining his MCL this past summer, Tucker was ranked as high as 44th overall, regardless of position, by prepstar.com. Not only did the SF/PF from William G Enloe High School -- who started on the varsity basketball team since his freshman season -- bounce back from his injury, but he has set a lofty goal for his final season as a prep. "I have my eyes set on earning Mr. Basketball of North Carolina," said Tucker. "There's no doubt in my mind, I'm going to get it."

Stacey Dean covered recruiting in the state of Texas for Horns Illustrated before joining Inside Texas. His prospect updates will appear frequently on InsideTexas.com.

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