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Tucker sees how coaches come and go
If Real Madrid guard Clay Tucker has learned anything the past few weeks, it's that coaching is a volatile profession.
The 30-year-old guard watched one of the best coaches in Europe, Ettore Messina, walk out the Madrid door at the beginning of the month and on Monday, Tucker’s friend and former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay coach, Bruce Pearl, was fired by the Tennessee Volunteers.
Players come and go, and so do the men that lead them.
Pearl, who turned the Vols into one of the best teams in the SEC, endeared himself to his players and students at Tennessee with a gung-ho attitude that was impossible to dislike.
More than anything, he got people excited about men’s basketball at Tennessee, a school best known for a powerhouse football program and a rich tradition in women’s basketball.
Handed the reins five years ago, Pearl went 145-61 with Tennessee.
He made headlines off the court, too.
Pearl, with his players, once showed up at a women's basketball game with his body painted orange.
For that night, Pearl was like any other fan on the Tennessee campus, rooting on women’s coach Pat Summitt and her nationally ranked team.
Pearl was known for something else after big wins.
He’d charge into the locker room and high-five his players.
Pearl was immortalized at Tennessee in a video that shows him running into the locker room after one big win when and ripping off his shirt and doing an Incredible Hulk imitation before hugging his players.
"Bruce is probably any player's ultimate dream coach," Tucker said.
"He's into the game, he brings energy.
"He's never negative no matter what the situation is.
"He keeps the team positive."
Pearl knew his stuff during the game, too, according to Tucker.
"On the X's and O's, he's perfect," Tucker said.
"He scouts like no other coach.
"He can tell you any out-of-bounds play that a team is going to run for a last-second shot, or early in the shot-clock.
"But for me, he's best at motivating his team to get ready to play."
Tucker thinks Pearl will be working again soon.
"It all depends on what his buyout was," Tucker said.
"I'm sure if something good comes along, he'll step up and take it."
If it was uncomfortable watching Pearl be shown the door by Tennessee, Tucker was much closer to an unexpected turn of events at Madrid.
Messina, with Madrid having qualified for the Euroleague quarter-finals, decided to leave the team after a heavy home defeat to Montepaschi Siena in the Top 16.
"It was shocking,” Tucker said.
“He came into the locker room after the game we'd lost here and told us.
"But we've moved on. We have to play as professionals and do our job."
Emanuele Molin, Messina’s long-time assistant, was put in charge of Madrid for the rest of the season.
Tucker did not go into the Valencia series in the best of shape.
He was hurt in Madrid’s weekend defeat to Unicaja Malaga but played through the pain barrier and appeared in both games.
Tucker winced on more than one occasion in Tuesday’s game.
“I was in terrible pain the other night, but it's no excuse,” he said.
“It's a physical sport.
“I tried to fight through it and help the team get the win. We got the win on Tuesday but we came up short the second time.”
On Thursday night, Valencia bounced back from the 71-65 defeat and won 81-75.
The two games against Valencia at the Caja Magica have reinforced Tucker’s belief that he is playing basketball at a very high level, a fact that might not be appreciated back in the United States.
A native of Ohio, Tucker said: “People back home don't understand how real basketball is in Europe. And in my opinion, it's a lot more serious.
“They take it more seriously than NBA basketball.
“In the NBA, they play 82 games and a lot of guys don't play until the fourth quarter of some games and then they really pick it up.
“And a lot of teams don't pick it up until play-off time.
“Here, every game counts. You have to bring it every game or you can come up short like we did today.”
Madrid and every one of the teams in the Euroleague quarter-finals are in the same situation.
Each best-of-five series is knotted at 1-1.
Tucker knows it’s going to be a real dogfight the rest of the way.
"Valencia is a great team,” he said.
“They struggled at the beginning of the year.
“They switched coaches (dismissed Manuel Hussein and appointed Svetislav Pesic), found their stride and they're playing excellent basketball on both ends of the floor.
"We knew coming in that they were going to give us their best shot. They did, they came out successful and now it's our time to go to Valencia to try and steal a game there.”
Games 3 and 4 will be played in Valencia TODAY
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