Tucker expresses frustration

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Some more analysis of this to come, but just wanted to get this story up somewhere on the site and blog.

The nuts and bolts of this: Maryland guard Cliff Tucker is frustrated with his playing time, which has officially dwindled to nothing after he didn’t play in last night’s 73-68 defeat of Miami. Tucker said last night coach Gary Williams told him he would play against the Hurricanes after Tucker was on the floor for 41 seconds on Tuesday against Boston College.

Williams denied he promised Tucker any playing time, and though Williams thought Tucker would play against Miami, game conditions (no foul trouble, reliance on a zone, less pressing than the last meeting with the Hurricanes, the play of the four guards in the rotation) caused a change of plans.

So it’s basically a “he said, he said” situation – and since reporters aren’t permitted to watch practice and are not privy to private meetings between coaches and players, I can only say Tucker and Williams were both extremely emphatic in expressing their opinions on the subject in the last 12 hours.

Nevertheless, both Tucker and Williams receive the full airing of their views (as they’re entitled to) here:

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Maryland guard Cliff Tucker questioned his playing time after Saturday’s defeat of Miami and said coach Gary Williams promised him he would play against the Hurricanes – a claim Williams vehemently denied.

Tucker did not appear in the 73-68 victory, the first time all season he did not make even a brief appearance for the Terrapins (14-7, 3-4 ACC). Williams utilized an eight-man rotation for the first time all season on Saturday and swapped Sean Mosley into the starting lineup in place of Eric Hayes.

“I’m glad we won, but not playing is just killing me right now,” Tucker said.

The sophomore guard expressed frustration with a personal low point of a season that began in promising fashion. The 6-foot-6 swingman was a fixture in the lineup in mid-November, but his role grew smaller as the season unfolded.

“Other than today, when you’re losing by 40 points and losing other games, I don’t know what else to do,” Tucker said. “I’ve been practicing hard. I’ve been in coach Williams’ office, asking him and telling him I wanted to play and showing him that I care. He even told me I was going to play.

“Two days ago [Thursday] in practice, he told me I was going to play. He said the starters are playing too many minutes and told me I was going to play for sure and I was going to be coming in for Sean. I came in today and came ready to play today and obviously I didn’t play, so I don’t know what’s going on or what he’s thinking in his mind.”

Williams rebutted those claims Sunday and indicated while he thought Tucker would play, game conditions changed things. Maryland’s top four guards – Hayes, Mosley, Adrian Bowie and Greivis Vasquez – did not encounter foul trouble, and the Terps did not press as much as in the last meeting with Miami.

The Terps’ rotation was effective, building a 12-point lead in the second half before holding in the final minutes.

“If the situation arose, he was going to play; the situation did not come up,” Williams said. “I’m the coach. I decide who plays. At some time during the week, I’ll probably talk to each player about where they stand on the team. I thought Cliff would get an opportunity. The way things worked, the opportunity wasn’t there.

“This is ridiculous. Why don’t you call [Georgetown coach] John Thompson III and ask why his seven players didn’t play? This is my choice as the head coach. I try to win the game. This is my mission, to win games. Last night, the rotation was really good.”

For the season, Tucker is averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 10.5 minutes. As a freshman, he averaged 4.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in 15.8 minutes.

Tucker began the season as arguably the Terps’ most likely option to emerge as a starter to complement Vasquez and Hayes. Long and lean, Tucker dazzled during preseason scrimmages, and his place in the opening night starting lineup was secured when Mosley sprained an ankle in late October.

He started the first five games, then was shelved in favor of Mosley when the Terps played Georgetown on Nov. 30, two days after their first loss of the season. Tucker played four minutes that night, and while fellow sophomore Adrian Bowie soon emerged as Maryland’s third guard, Tucker’s playing time steadily dwindled.

In Maryland’s last eight games, Tucker logged double-digit minutes only once – when he played 17 minutes in a 41-point loss at Duke. Since then, he made a 41-second cameo at the end of the first half in a loss to Boston College, then didn’t play at all Saturday.

Tucker scored seven points in his last seven games while averaging 6.4 minutes – a number that drops to 4.7 minutes when the Duke blowout is factored out.

“I was starting for this team and I was doing well, and they took me out of the starting lineup and all the sudden I got to just not playing at all,” Tucker said. “When we lose and you’re not playing at all – I know I can definitely help this team. That’s the worst part about it. If we were winning all of our games and I was on the bench not playing at all, it would show obviously they don’t need me so I couldn’t complain.”

Tucker said he was not dealing with any non-basketball issues that would hinder his work in practice and games.

“I don’t know if he thinks I’m not practicing hard or if I don’t care or if it’s an off-the-court issue,” Tucker said. “I don’t know what it is. There’s nothing going on with me. I’m here at practice on time. I go to class. I don’t do anything wrong off the court. I’ve been practicing hard. On the scout team, I’m [playing] the other team’s best player, so I’m going hard to give my team a good look.”

Reporters have asked about Tucker’s status several times since he was removed from the starting lineup. On Jan. 16, Williams said Tucker “just hasn’t been consistent. He hasn’t stepped up to be that player that you can throw in there for 15 or 20 minutes every night.”

Williams re-iterated his usual stance yesterday that the guys who play the best in practice and work hard are rewarded with playing time. It is difficult for those outside the program to assess that since practices are closed to the media and public.

Still, Williams said he expects opportunities to arise for Tucker in the future.

“Players – and this is every team I ever coached – they will get their chance,” Williams said. “Cliff had chances early in the year. He’ll get other chances. He has to keep working hard in practice. Cliff should be very happy. That’s a big win for us last night. He should be very happy.” 

Patrick Stevens

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