On page four of the first half play-by-play of Maryland's second round NCAA tournament game sits perhaps the most perfect summation of Cliff Tucker's three seasons with the Terrapins.
Effectively, it reads like this:
1:12: STEAL by Cliff Tucker
1:10: GOOD! FT SHOT by Cliff Tucker
1:10: GOOD! FT SHOT by Cliff Tucker
1:04: FOUL by Cliff Tucker (P1T8)
Of course, it was much more exciting in real life than it was in a recap.
The steal was the sort of play Maryland probably could have received from Tucker alone, at least on this past season's roster. In the open court --- where the rules of a conventional offense and defense need not apply --- he can at times border on brilliant.
The foul, though, was more than a simply ticky-tack reach-in. Running back after his free throws, Tucker bowled over Michigan State's Austin Thornton in the corner; 3,000 miles away, even Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown would have been impressed if he was paying attention. Alas, this isn't football, and such activities are frowned upon in Tucker's chosen sport.
Three years in, and Tucker is in a lot of ways the same player who showed up in College Park. He's undeniably talented, gifted with ridiculous athleticism. But that consistency ... well, that still hasn't fully arrived.
It's better, though. Tucker earlier in his career wouldn't have taken to the DNP-CD he received at Indiana quietly. He wouldn't have dealt with sporadic minutes remotely well.
As a result, Tucker produced a few more of the good variety of "where-did-that-come-from" sequences as a junior.
Statistically, it wasn't a dynamite season, but it was clear from the opener he was the fourth or fifth guard (depending on Adrian Bowie's play) on team starting three guards --- two of whom played at least 30 minutes a night.
Tucker did author a signature moment, something not even the best of players can savor and an accomplishment that can never be wrested away. It was Tucker --- not Greivis Vasquez or Eric Hayes or Sean Mosley, but Tucker --- for whom coach Gary Williams drew up an inbounds play for in the final seconds as the Terps trailed Georgia Tech 74-73.
It was Tucker who improvised when the ball was placed closer to halfcourt than anticipated, Tucker who deftly snuck in a fake before burying a 3-pointer over Glen Rice Jr. and setting off bedlam in Comcast Center.
It was Tucker's forever moment, a tale he'll be asked to tell (and, chances are, he will gladly share it) for years to come. His was the first game-winning buzzer beater for Maryland since 2003, when another guy who was a complementary piece for his first three seasons (Drew Nicholas) cemented his place among the most underappreciated players to pass through College Park when he sent Maryland into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But a single awesome play --- either a shot in the end-game or a steal in the open court --- does not define a full season. For all the amazing things Tucker can do (his passing is a remarkably slick asset, and his shooting stroke is pure), the production isn't always there.
It will need to be next season, with Maryland's exodus of talent hinting at far greater roles for the three juniors (Tucker, Bowie and Dino Gregory) expected to contend for starting positions next season.
Tucker probably has the greatest upside of the bunch. The other two haven't scored 22 points against an eventual national champion (as Tucker did as a sophomore against North Carolina) or daggered a talented opponent as the horn sounded.
But neither looks over his shoulder as much as Tucker does, either. He spoke at different stages of the season about not worrying about getting yanked for the smallest infraction, and you almost wanted to believe both parts of his message --- that he had some rope to work with and wasn't worried about the consequences of just one miscue.
Yet one of the most telling sequences of the Terps' trip to Virginia in March was Tucker's reaction to a turnover late in the first half. Williams had Bowie race to check-in and Tucker took three steps toward the bench, only to find out Bowie was coming in for Hayes instead. Tucker proceeded to make a U-turn to go back and play defense.
The next 12 months are crucial for Tucker. Based strictly on talent, he could be the most improved player in the ACC and wind up a scoring dynamo for a team in search of points from its backcourt (as was the case with Nicholas in 2003). Or he could plod along and put up similar per 40-minute figures, only with more playing time because Maryland has few established choices to start next season.
The reminders pop up every week or two during the season of how good Tucker could be --- certainly far better than his stats would suggest. Maryland (and Tucker's eventual prospects of an overseas career) could both stand to see that version of the Texan a lot more in his final season. The fate of both the Terps in 2011 and Tucker's basketball future may pivot upon it.