March 08, 2011
When Illinois College guard Jacob Tucker originally contacted organizers of the college slam dunk contest last week about allowing him to participate, they told him Division III players typically lack the notoriety needed to receive an invitation.
Needless to say, Tucker stumbled upon a solution to that problem.
A two-minute YouTube video he created to promote his candidacy for the dunk contest has attracted more than 500,000 viewers in five days thanks to the 5-foot-11 senior's creativity and leaping ability.
ESPN's SportsNation ran a poll asking whether Tucker or Blake Griffin would win a dunk contest. Talk show host Jim Rome proclaimed the contest needs Tucker more than he needs it. And nearly 2,000 fans have joined a Facebook group dedicated to landing Tucker an invitation to the contest, which will be held during Final Four weekend next month.
"It's definitely been surreal," Tucker said. "I was making the video strictly to send into the dunk contest organizers. All this other stuff I wasn't expecting. It just took off and I have no idea how it happened."
The college slam dunk contest has traditionally included exclusively Division I players, but there is precedent for a lower-division player having the chance to compete. A Division II player received an invitation a few years ago after wowing fans with several high-flying dunks during the Division II national title game.
If there's any lower-division player who should have a chance this year, it's Tucker, who first dunked a basketball as a 5-foot-7 ninth grader and says he now has a vertical leap of between 50 and 51 inches — about a foot more than Griffin. Some of that is natural ability, Tucker admits, but he's also worked to hone his leaping ability in college through an array of strength and conditioning workouts.
Tucker's two favorite dunks in the above video are the 360 between-the-legs slam and the off-the-side-of-the-backboard 360. He got the idea for the latter dunk when he watched Blake Griffin attempt it at the NBA slam dunk contest last month.
"With all the timing and everything that goes into it, I got it first try somehow," Tucker said. "I've only attempted that one time. I wouldn't have even tried that dunk if I hadn't seen Blake do it because that's a very difficult dunk."
The only question now facing Tucker is whether he will receive his invitation to compete against the Division I standouts at the Final Four in Houston. He said organizers contacted him Monday to inform him they're considering it but they will not have a final answer for him until later this week.
"At this point, it would almost be bad publicity for them if they don't let me in," he joked.
With all the attention he's received this week, it's probably true.
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