Jacob Tucker Q + A
The 2011 NCAA Dunk Contest champion talks with SLAMonline about how life has changed since winning the event.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
Jacob Tucker, an unknown player from Illinois College—a tiny Division III school located in Jacksonville, IL, about 4 hours outside of Chicago—made himself into a household name when he won the NCAA’s annual dunk contest during Final Four weekend a few weeks ago.
Tucker, who reportedly sports a 50-inch vertical, had to lobby via YouTube just to get into the contest. But once he received the invite, he left little doubt upon leaving Houston that he was the best dunker in the nation, hands down.
A lot has changed since that fateful weekend, and Tucker sat down with SLAMonline to tell his story.
SLAM: So, are you from Illinois originally?
Jacob Tucker: Yeah, I’m from the Southern Illinois area and if you’re from Chicago, you probably think everything is Southern Illinois. But I’m just like 40 minutes east of St. Louis.
SLAM: So have you been at Illinois College the entire time?
JT: I went to McKendree University (in Lebanon, IL) my first year and then I transferred to Illinois College.
SLAM: As far as your dunking ability, how long have you been able to do those dunks?
JT: Well, I started dunking when I was a freshman in high school; I was about 5-7. So I could get up pretty well back then. But I would say just in the past 2 years I’ve been jumping a lot higher. I came out with a video my sophomore year and it was just OK and I knew I had to come out with another one, a good one, to get in the dunk contest. So you can see the difference in how much better I am from this past video than the one from 2 years ago.
SLAM: Wow. So did you do a video every year in order to sort of prepare for this moment?
JT: I had a video in high school—I never even put it up—I was in a dunk contest at an All-Star game in high school and someone video taped it and put it up themselves. And the one in college that I did my sophomore year, I only did it because people around me were telling me to do it because a lot of people wanted to see what I could do and they wanted to post it on YouTube. So that was really the only reason I did it my sophomore year. And why I did it like a month ago was because I knew I had to make a video because I’m not a big name person or anything like that; a big Division I guy. So I knew the only way I could get in the dunk contest was for me to make a video. I was just going to put it on YouTube so I could send the link to Intersport which is the company that chooses the dunkers, so that’s the only reason I was even going to do it and it just kind of took off.
SLAM: So basically you got voted in, is that right?
JT: Yeah. There was another small school dunker that they liked a lot too, so [Intersport] wanted it to be a popular vote between me and him and I ended up getting in the contest.
SLAM: What percentage of the votes did you get? Do you know?
JT: 80 percent. It wasn’t even close [laughs].
SLAM: Had you ever won a dunk contest before?
JT: Yeah, I won two dunk contests in All-Star games in high school. But besides that I hadn’t really been in a whole lot more.
SLAM: Obviously it takes a lot of creativity to do the dunks that you’re doing. How much time are you putting in terms of practicing to come up with these things?
JT: [Laughs] That’s kind of funny. You know how I was talking about the video I did my sophomore year? Well I did not practice those dunks or anything. I didn’t practice dunking or anything like that until I made that video like a month ago and that’s just because I’m a basketball player and most people that see the dunks don’t understand that. They usually think I’m just a dunker, but I’m a basketball player first and foremost so I work on basketball skills. So I really never practiced those dunks very much. What you saw in this latest video was me going out and saying, ‘OK, I’ve gotta think of some dunks to be creative enough to get in the contest.’ Those weren’t dunks that I practiced much and I actually got most of them on the first or second try. So I don’t practice those dunks much and I can get them pretty easily. The only time I really practiced them was in the 2 weeks leading up to the contest.
SLAM: When you got the call to be in the contest, what was that moment like for you?
JT: I was just really excited. I was actually running around my room. I had a lot of energy and I couldn’t really keep it in. My first day becoming a college basketball player, I wanted to be in the dunk contest; the college dunk contest. I knew being a Division III player that the chances of that were pretty slim and for me, this was like a dream come true; to be able to be in something that I always watched and always dreamed of being a part of.
SLAM: So once you saw the competition and what the field was like, did you have a feeling that you were going to win it?
JT: I’m confident, but I’m not a cocky person. I know the skills that I have compared to other people and I knew coming into the contest it would be a disadvantage for those taller guys because I can do pretty much anything that they can do and I’m 6 to 8 inches shorter than them. So I was pretty confident going into the contest and I kind of had the feeling if I got the dunks down that I had planned to do, then I wouldn’t have a problem in actually pulling it out and winning it. Obviously if you don’t make the dunks you’re not going to win, but I knew the dunks that I already had planned to do and I knew that if I could do those and counter on those, then I would have a good chance of winning.