Aside from a wicked sense of humor that has been well documented by his teammates, you would be hard pressed to find a more quiet player than Dakarai Tucker in Utah's basketball program.
But his play is speaking volumes.
Tucker is a sophomore small forward who almost was an afterthought in Larry Krystkowiak's first real recruiting class. He was a redshirt candidate as a freshman and didn't start to see any tangible playing time until after midseason.
But Tucker has been one of the surprises of the summer for the Utes. The word "project" once was attached to his name. Now the two words commonly associated with him are "most improved." And that's why he will be a starter Friday night in the season opener against Evergreen State at the Huntsman Center.
Tucker took his offseason seriously, and he's now reaping the benefits.
"He's certainly improved and gotten better, as much as anyone on the team," Krystkowiak said. "He's worked hard on a lot of his weaknesses, and you've seen a leap from him in almost every area. He's someone who's made it hard for me to keep off the floor."
Tucker is a better shooter, thanks to shooting thousands of jumpers in an empty gym with his father, Dominic, shagging rebounds. He has gotten more athletic, a product of his cross-training regimen. He's added weight on to a once-skinny frame. Most importantly,Tucker has added confidence a big thing because that was one of his most pressing issues.
Tucker averaged three points and 11 minutes per game as a freshman. He scored 78 points. Those numbers almost certainly will increase, barring injury. Tucker along with Brandon Taylor are two of the best shooters Utah has, a must for spacing the floor in what will be an offense predicated on driving the lane. At 6 foot 5, Tucker has prototypical wing size, and that will help Utah when it begins to face Pac-12 opponents.
"I wanted to work on every part of my game," Tucker said. "I knew that nothing was promised to me and that I would have to improve if I wanted to play this season."
He makes a good point. With Krystkowiak bringing in Kenneth Ogbe, Princeton Onwas and Ahmad Fields, competition on the wings has been fierce. Onwas in particular is the best all-around athlete the Utes have and a good defender to boot.
But Tucker has been very good in practice and the preseason. He's made open shots. He's run the floor and made baskets in transition. He's so far been a perfect fit next to Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright, which will give him the nod Friday night.
"I know that I have to go out there and hit the open shot when it's given to me and do all of the little things," Tucker said. "That's what I have to do in order to get playing time. It's not over. I haven't accomplished anything yet. I just want to go out and keep playing hard."
Evergreen State at Utah
O At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Series history • First meeting
About the Geoducks • Evergreen State doesn't boast a player taller than 6-foot-7. â¦ Kyle Calhoun leads the Geoducks with 27.5 points per game. â¦ Evergreen State will be playing its third game in three nights. â¦ The Geoducks recently lost to St. Martin's 89-69, the team Utah beat in its exhibition
About the Utes • Utah will have three new starters from last year. â¦ The Utes are 2-0 in season openers under Larry Krystkowiak. â¦ Utah is 543-145 all-time at the Huntsman Center. â¦ Jordan Loveridge finished his freshman season with 7.0 rebounds per game, good for top-10 in the Pac-12. â¦ Utah center Dallin Bachynski will not play, due to a sprained ankle