As far as Maryland basketball goes, there's not a single player as enigmatic as Cliff Tucker.
An inconsistent senior wing, Tucker's been through a few highs and many lows throughout the past three years in College Park. He's been notorious for drawing Gary Williams' ire, either through mistake-prone play or a lackadaisical attitude. He has the talent, undoubtedly, but the playing time hasn't come.
He's regularly seen as one of the X-factors for next season, a result of his talent and relative experience amidst an unproven team. That's why what Maryland strength coach Paul Ricci said, via Patrick Stevens, regarding Tucker's play in the offseason is so encouraging.
"Cliff Tucker, by far --- 180," Ricci said. "I shouldn't say that. It's not that his attitude was bad, It's that it wasn't as good as I would have hoped. It's been so refreshing to see the change in him. When things get tough, it's like 'No, we're going to do it again.' He'll literally tell the team if somebody screwed up on technique, 'You need to do that again.' Or if a guy's struggling, he'll jump in and do it with him. It's been amazing to see."
He later says that his work ethic now rivals that of Sean Mosley, Adrian Bowie, and Dino Gregory. That's pretty impressive, especially because he has size and natural smoothness that neither Mosley nor Bowie have.
The 6-5 wing from Texas came into Maryland just one year after Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes, and in the same class as Bowie. The first was one of the greatest Terps ever; the second was a solid four-year starter; the third came into his own last season and figures to be the biggest backcourt piece Gary Williams has this year. Needless to say, Tucker's playing time has been inconsistent.
He's had his highs, most notably the incredible buzzer-beater against Georgia Tech. He's had his lows, most notably the "laughing while losing" incident against Florida State. He's been Gary Williams' verbal punching bag for the past few years, and he was passed over by both Bowie and Mosley; the threat of it happening with Mychal Parker and Pe'Shon Howard was very real.
But if he's seriously re-dedicated himself, you should start to see a change in his game: better floor awareness, fewer turnovers, more stamina, and, most importantly, a longer leash from Gary.
With Maryland's top three scorers from last year gone and only Mosley, Bowie, and Tucker returning as experienced perimeter players, the Terps may be short on a perimeter scoring threat. Bowie had his moments late last year; Mosley earlier in the season. Neither are proven over a long period of time.
Of course, Tucker isn't, either, and saying that he will be is premature at this point. But a successful Tucker - say, nine points a game, either off the bench or starting - would do a lot. He'd lighten the scoring load of Jordan Williams and the rest of the perimeter players. He'd keep the freshman off the floor for long periods of time, unless they're that good. And he'd provide another potential "instant offense" type of player.
A lot of people said that his senior season would be Mike Jones-like. While I'm not certain Tucker's going to be good for 13 a game, a leap in the quality of play, ala Jones, is believable. Hopefully the light's turned on for good.