Fri Apr 01 01:03am EDT
This will likely be the end of Jacob Tucker's 15 minutes of fame, but what an ending it is.
The unassuming 5-foot-11 guard from tiny Division-III Illinois College, whose journey to Thursday's NCAA slam dunk championship began with a YouTube audition video that became a viral sensation, is officially college basketball's top senior dunker.
He won the competition in Houston by pulling off a series of jaw-dropping throw-downs.
Tucker earned a perfect score of 50 in the first round with a through-the-legs finish off of the bounce. He was the only competitor to notch a 50 in the opening round, and that gave him some leeway on his second attempt.
First, he started in the right corner and ran towards a ball placed on the right block. Tucker executed a cartwheel and grabbed the ball all in one motion, but missed the dunk after springing upwards. With his allotted time running out, he still pulled off something simple, yet solid enough to get him to the semifinals — Your ho-hum 360-degree, two-handed jam.
There, while trailing sophomore Illinois College teammate/dunk assistant Nathan Kohler down the left sideline, he grabbed his partner's toss off of the side of the backboard and executed a smooth 360 spin while finishing with one hand. That easily locked him into the finals.
He went second in the final round, and had to top a 46 posted by UNC-Asheville's John Williams.
That's when it got really interesting, as Tucker first made two attempts at a through-the-legs 360 dunk, but couldn't put it down.
He'd later tell ESPN's Holly Rowe that was his original back-up option, but went for it first since that dunk had never been done in the NCAA competition. Then, he reverted to the first choice, which proved to be the breadwinner.
Kohler stood just off to the right side of the hoop with the ball held over his head. Tucker charged in from the corner, completely cleared Kohler — also listed at 5-11 — grabbed the ball and threw in a two-handed reverse slam. ESPN replays measured his vertical leap on the dunk at a ridiculous 46 inches.
"It's unbelievable, just because a lot of these other guys here are D-I players," he said afterwards. "They're used to being on the national stage, and this dunk contest, to their schools, didn't necessarily mean as much. To be able to represent my school on a national stage is a real honor."
You can say that the gimmick of Tucker simply being there helped him win it, but that would be inaccurate. He had to win a Facebook fan vote to get to Houston as the only non-Division-I participant, but convincingly proved himself worthy.
It also didn't hurt that the rest of the competitors left something to be desired when compared to Tucker's well-planned arsenal. Against a somewhat lack of creativity by others in a field that featured no one else shorter than 6-foot-3 and antics such as Cincinnati's Darnell Wilks advertising his Twitter page on a custom-made headband, Tucker was a silent assassin.
Tucker, who averaged 14.8 points and an impressive-given-his-height 7.1 rebounds a game this season for the Blueboys, appeared quiet the entire night while waiting his turns on the sidelines. But he finally cut loose a bit after his title-clinching dunk, when he jokingly executed the Aaron Rodgers championship belt celebration with Memphis' Will Coleman.
Then, fittingly, there was the prize for winning it.
Instead of a bulky trophy that he'd have to awkwardly carry on to a flight back to central Illinois, Tucker was presented with a custom-made, WWE-style belt.
Just awesome. Purely awesome.
Barring Disney getting a hold of the movie rights to this tale — which you can never really count out — this is likely the last you'll hear of Jacob Tucker. But it's hard to think of a more impressive way for him to dip away from the spotlight.
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