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Tucker Shepherd's "basketball centric" lifestyle and his emergence into All-Area Player of the Year

Jun. 8—The lights at Jim Norick Arena felt brighter, almost like a spotlight on Tucker Shepherd as he warmed up ahead of his first ever state tournament game. He'd dreamed of playing inside the historic arena for a long time, and it was coming to fruition.

The now fully-blossomed 6-foot-4 senior star had led Perkins-Tryon boys basketball to its best season in program history, a 28-3 record proudly displayed to the Oklahoma high school basketball community.

"I got chills going down my body," Shepherd recalls. "Wow, we actually made it."

During the final moments of the state quarterfinal against North Rock Creek, the Demons faced a 44-41 deficit with 45 seconds left. Shepherd found his spot in the left corner and waited for the play to unfold.

The ball quickly found its way into the hands of the sharpshooter, and his quick catch-and-shoot release got the ball over the outstretched defense and through the net to tie the game.

It was the biggest shot of Shepherd's high school basketball career, but it was also his last.

North Rock Creek used a 6-0 flurry in the closing seconds to win the game and eliminate Perkins-Tryon from the state tournament; a bittersweet ending to the career of Shepherd and the other seniors that helped to bring success to a dormant basketball program.

Shepherd now leaves P-T in the rearview with two Conference Player of the Year honors, an All-State selection and is the News Press All-Area Player of the Year for 2024.

He has the pride of a self-made player. Hard work and dedication transformed him from an undersized role player to a solidified star.

During his early high school career, a blunt reality hit Shepherd. He was used to dominating on the court, winning by 40 without breaking a sweat. That changed very quickly once he checked in for the first time as a high schooler.

"I got in that first game ever, and I was like, 'Wow, this is what high school is,'" Shepherd said. "This is a completely different level from middle school. It shook me."

During that ensuing offseason, Tucker hit his growth spurt. He went from around 5-foot-6 up to nearly 6-feet tall, but that's just one type of physical growth. Shepherd grew in many more ways than just height that summer.

It started during a conversation with coach Dylan Parker.

"Listen, you're going to have a new job," Parker told Shepherd. "You're going to have to be able to play better defense, be able to shoot a lot more and be able to handle the ball a little more."

Consider it done.

"That's all I needed to hear from him," Shepherd said. "I just got into the gym and I started working and whatever he needed me to do, I did it."

From that point on, the relationship between Parker and Shepherd took off. While his fellow classmates focused on other sports, like football or baseball, it was all about basketball for Shepherd.

The two spent the offseason together, training and advancing Shepherd's craft for four years.

"He's really basketball centric," Parker said. "That's what he wants to do, and when he's at his house, that's what he's doing."

That's how Shepherd was raised.

"My dad put a ball in my hand when I was 2-years old," Shepherd said. "I remember shooting on a little mini hoop. I didn't want to go to bed, nothing. I just had that ball in my hand the whole time."

Justin Shepherd played college basketball at NOC-Tonkawa in the early 2000s, and his love for the game rubbed off on his son. So did his work ethic.

"He was getting me into the gym every single day, making sure I'm getting my shots up, making sure I'm lifting weights," Shepherd said.

That hard work paid off in his sophomore season opener. This was several months removed from the conversation with Parker about stepping up, and it didn't take long for Shepherd's hard work to pay off.

The season opener against Berryhill rolled around, and Shepherd came out firing. He scored 15 points in the first quarter, leading Perkins-Tryon to a 65-46 victory and firmly cementing himself into the starting five.

"That just kind of like springboarded his career," Parker said. "From that point forward, he was a starter every game."

Shepherd recalls that game fondly, and reflected back on his mentality ahead of that game, telling himself, "this is my time."

"The height did help a lot," Shepherd jokingly admits.

As did the extensive training sessions with some basketball legends in Oklahoma, something he's done for years — even dating back to elementary school.

During his dad's time playing college basketball, he befriended Brady Page, high school coaching guru and brother of Oklahoma State basketball icon Keiton Page. That friendship created a unique opportunity for Tucker.

"Me and Keiton, we've been working out since I was probably third or fourth grade," Shepherd said. "Then he got the job at OSU, so I didn't get to see him a lot anymore."

That helped Shepherd develop his deep range deadeye and his quickdraw release. His current trainer helped with the physical development.

No better trainer than the NBA Combine bench press record holder; Joey Graham played at Oklahoma State from 2003-2005, was drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft, played six years in the league and now is an aspiring coach and a personal trainer. Shepherd has been working with Graham since middle school.

Now, Shepherd's dedication to the sport he loves most has awarded him the chance to play at the next level. Southwestern Oklahoma State University offered a scholarship in late February and Shepherd committed shortly after the team's run to the state tournament ended.

SWOSU head coach Brett Weiberg has connections to Shepherd and has followed him closely for several years. Weiberg was an assistant coach at NOC-Tonkawa while Tucker's dad was on the roster. Recently, he coached against Shepherd when he served as head coach of Madill High School from 2018-2023.

"(Weiberg) kind of knew about him there and came up, watched him play a few times, and liked what he saw," Parker said. "I think there's a great chance to go down there and do some really good things."

The offer from Weiberg and SWOSU was one of five college offers. When he got it, he knew that was the one.

"It was a great feeling," Shepherd said. "I didn't know if they were gonna pull the trigger and offer me."

He will be on the SWOSU roster starting this fall, and he'll look to break into a prominent role — the same way he did in high school.

"Shooting's at a premium. If you shoot the basketball, you have a chance," Parker said. "Tucker can shoot it and shoot it with range. He can fill it up. He can score at all three levels, so I think he has a chance to go down there and really make a name for himself.

"He came so far in those four years, and that's why he's gonna have an unbelievable chance to play at the next level, because he's been through it."

Shepherd's growth on and off the court in just four years helped transform Perkins-Tryon basketball into a statewide competitor.

"Just a great player, unbelievable kid," Parker said. "He was a big part of what we did. He really is one of those guys that just improved in every level of his game as his career progressed."