Tucker makes sure he's not forgotten

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Don't tell Raptors rookie P.J. Tucker that his 12 points and nine rebounds on Tuesday in Phoenix came during garbage time.

A muscular 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, you don't want to get on Tucker's bad side even if he is an easy-going guy and a popular teammate on the Raptors squad.

But he is also the forgotten rookie on a Toronto team that has a pair of highly celebrated first-year players in forwards Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa.

Bargnani, the first overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft, and Garbajosa, a veteran free agent signing from Europe, rate in most top 10 offensive categories for rookies, and are being touted with increased frequency as rookie of the year candidates.

Tucker, on the other hand, has played very few minutes in only 11 games this season, and has been almost an after-thought.

So when head coach Sam Mitchell ordered him into the game in Phoenix with 7:30 left in the third quarter and the Raptors already down by 15, the Raleigh, N.C. native jumped at the chance to prove that he is more than just a good practice player.

And prove he did, falling just short of a double-double in a mere 19 minutes of play.

ANTICIPATION

For Tucker, getting any court time this year is a blessing, something that the 2006 second-round draft choice (35th overall) has been waiting for with increasing anticipation.

It has been a tough first season for the former Texas star, who averaged team highs of 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds for the Longhorns last season. Though he is small by NBA standards, the Raptors drafted Tucker for his rebounding skills and the fact that he can be tenacious on defence.

"It's tough because for the first time in your life, you're not playing," said Tucker, who is built more like a collegiate wrestler than a basketball player.

"You're trying to hang in there and learn as much as you can and keep your head up, but it's tough.

"You see a lot of guys now out of the league because they don't know how to keep their frustration and anger in check and be able to take it as motivation," Tucker added. "So I'm just trying to stay away from that and work as hard as I can, and when I get a chance, take full advantage of it."

After his performance against the Suns, no doubt Mitchell will not hesitate to insert his rookie small forward in future contests. And perhaps not just during garbage time.


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