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Heat’s P.J. Tucker thriving as contributing mentor: ‘I wish I had somebody like me’

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Only now does P.J. Tucker recognize what was missing at the start of his pro basketball odyssey, one that took him from Israel to the Ukraine to Greece to Montenegro to Germany before he was able to gain an NBA foothold six years later.

“I wish I had somebody like me,” the veteran power forward told the Sun Sentinel during a break in the Miami Heat’s first-round NBA playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.

“I think so many times when I was younger, coming into the league, being a young player, I wish I had somebody to kind of help me, teach me little tricks of the trade, little things you got to do, how to stay focused.”

So there he has been, sweating on the Heat practice court with Javonte Smart and Mychal Mulder, neophytes not even eligible for the postseason because of their two-way contracts.

No matter, he said, with Tucker’s tutorials not a matter of class privilege.

“It’s the kind of player I am,” he said, words that would come off as hubris if not for the appreciation of Tucker’s humility. “I’ve always been that. I’ve always been a leader since I was a kid on my teams.”

It was during one of Tucker’s workouts with anyone and everyone willing to work after practice that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pointed over the cameras focused on him to the ongoing work of Tucker.

“I think,” Spoelstra said, “his highlight film should be played during Rookie Orientation, what it really looks like to be a winning player, and it’s not just about how many points you score, how many shots you can get up.

“It’s a meaningless one-on-one game that he is really fired up and intense about right now.”

In many ways, Tucker has become the Heat’s universal donor of vitality, the animated 36-year-old as likely to be mentoring the team’s young players as coaxing another level from the team’s veterans.

All, seemingly to a man, grateful.

“It’s great. It’s pretty cool. I’m not going to lie,” Tucker said, “to get that from veterans, from young guys, just by putting in the work. It’s just putting in the work, being diligent, doing it every single day, every game, not missing games, playing every game, being at practice, talking, communicating.

“All the stuff I preach, I practice. So I think that’s the thing, too.”

And that’s the thing, his is do as I say, as well as do as I do.

“I love it,” Spoelstra said. “I love just the absolute fierceness, toughness, competitiveness. And he’s got an incredible mind and IQ for the game, at both ends of the floor.

“He’s one of the smartest players I’ve coached. It’s really a hard thing to do, is be that intense but also be so disciplined and detailed. That’s why he’s had so much success.”

So last year there was a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. Now there is the quest for the one with the Heat.

“It’s the same hunger, the same intensity, if not more,” Tucker said. “Once you win it, I think the perception is like people think like, ‘Oh, you won it. You’re good now.’ And it’s not. It makes you hungrier. It makes you fight for more, because you know what it feels like, and chasing that feeling.

“This is what I live for. This is it. I came here for this. It’s everything.”

The passion, Spoelstra said, is real, raw, relentless.

“He holds everybody accountable,” Spoelstra said. “He’s still pretty unique, too. Because he takes ownership if he feels like he didn’t do something right. So that’s why we all follow him.

“Whatever he says is the truth, because he does it both ways. He’s not just barking at guys. He’s also very introspective and vulnerable about his own game.”


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