Basketball Star, Management Major Morgan Tuck Bids Adieu to UConn, Prepares for WNBA
For fans of UConn women’s basketball player Morgan Tuck, the moment that brought tears to their eyes happened with less than two minutes remaining in the Husky’s NCAA Championship game Tuesday night.
Tuck and her basketball sisters, Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson, exited the court together—their fourth consecutive, record-breaking championship assured—and embraced each other. A look of pure joy splashed across Tuck’s face.
Then she and her teammates flung their arms around Head Coach Geno Auriemma, celebrating a victory four years in the making, and one that will, undoubtedly, remain in the record books for many years to come.
Less than 24 hours later came the heartbreaking, but not surprising, announcement by Tuck that she would leave UConn after graduation this year, foregoing one more year of college basketball eligibility, and join the WNBA draft.
“I really want to say to everyone that’s part of the UConn family that I really appreciate everything they’ve done. I had an extremely great time here. I love UConn and I’ll be a Husky forever,” she said during a SportsCenter interview on Wednesday.
It was a decision that Tuck had reserved for many months.
“Whenever I leave UConn, it will be really hard,” Tuck, a native of Bolingbrook, Ill., said at an interview several months ago. “UConn is like home now. I feel like I’ll be ready for it, be expecting it. But it will be bittersweet.”
Auriemma always knew that Tuck had tremendous potential, he said. But one memory that will always stay with him is her determination during workouts her freshman year.
“No matter what the strength and conditioning coaches put her through, she would never, ever give up. She was unstoppable,” he said. That streak continued this week, as Tuck was named to the Final Four All-Tournament Team and the 2016 American Athletic Conference All-Conference Team. She scored 21 points in the Final Four game versus Oregon State, stepping up when Stewart got into foul trouble, and 19-points in the championship against Syracuse.
The combination of her leadership, poise, cool-headedness and determination will serve her well in life, Auriemma said.
“She’s a sharp woman and she’s got so much going for her. If basketball ever goes away, she’s going to be OK,” he said.
The young woman who dreamed of winning a record four national championships at UConn is now focused on her future. Her dream job, she has said, is to become general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, a position that would make good use of her business degree.
“I didn’t come in as a business major,” Tuck said. “During my junior and senior years, I realized that business is what I wanted to do. My dream job would be to be general manager of an NBA team. I want to end my career in men’s basketball and the Lakers are my favorite team.”
Among Tuck’s favorite professors are David Norton, assistant professor of marketing, whom she describes as engaging; Rich Dino, associate professor of management, whose “Gaining Competitive Advantage” class was one of her favorites; Professor and Management Department Head Lucy Gilson who got her thinking about life beyond sports; and management Associate Professor Nora Madjar‘s compelling course in managerial negotiations.
The women’s basketball players have repeatedly been recognized for their good grades and Tuck is no exception.
“A 3.0 is expected,” Tuck said. “We talk often about our academic goals. Everyone knows it’s an expectation. You have incentive to do well in school. There’s a reception for everyone who earns a 3.0 or better. You do not want your name to not be called!”
Both academic and athletic competition seems to invigorate Tuck, who said she prefers the hard-fought victories over the easy ones.
“Close games make you sharpen up,” she said with a grin. “Our coaches do a good job keeping us on edge and making us play a certain way. We are always preparing for the tournaments at the end of the season.”
She shrugs off comments about the team lacking competition in women’s basketball.
“People say that because of the scores. They think it’s easy,” she said. “But we can win by 40 and our coaches still aren’t always happy with how we’re playing. It’s not just about winning, but meeting the goals that our coaches have set for us.”
“Coach [Auriemma] gives us super-high expectations to make us perfect,” she said. “It’s not just him striving to make us better…he makes it something we incorporate into ourselves.
“What I will take away most from this experience is that you must put your all into whatever you’re doing and care about others more than yourself. Without that dedication, the team won’t be good,” she said.
Tuck said her teammates jokingly refer to her as the ‘Team Mom.’ “No one wants to be called that,” she said with a grin. “But it is a good thing, I suppose. Your mom does everything for you. She’s always there.”
One of her hallmark traits is that she is level-headed even when a call doesn’t go in the team’s favor. “I’m not emotional when I play, so I try to keep everyone calm, encouraged and fired up if they need that,” she said. “I try to keep a level head during the game. That’s my personality and something I learned from my high school coach. Don’t show your frustration.”
She recalled the jumble of nerves she felt as a freshman when she “just didn’t want to mess up.” As a senior the pressure was even greater, she said, but the players’ confidence was much greater, too.
She and teammate Stewart have been friends since they played on competitive leagues together in high school.
“We came on our UConn visit together. I knew before I left that I wanted to come to UConn and Breanna declared shortly after,” she said. It seems appropriate, then, that they leave together, too.
While most of her basketball career has been productive, Tuck was forced to red-shirt during the 2013-14 season after two knee surgeries. Instead of racing up and down the court, she hobbled on crutches for six weeks in the icy weather, struggling to get to class. “I learned that you can’t mope around feeling sorry for yourself,” she said. “You go to rehab and you recover as quickly as you can.”
“I’m happy I came to UConn. The people I’m around make it very homelike and that was part of my decision to come here. I loved playing in a packed stadium. I’ve gotten a lot of support, especially after the surgery,” she said.
“We have the best fans. They are super committed. On our road games, we’ll have more support than the home team, sometimes. It makes us feel that what we’re doing matters,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have the support we do.”
On campus she’s spotted often, with students, faculty and staff commenting on the games.
“It’s cool. I don’t mind it a bit. It’s kind of what you sign up for when you play here,” she said. Her parents, who have relocated to Virginia, visit often, as does her sister Taylor, a 2015 graduate of the University of Illinois and former basketball player there.
Tuck has granted hundreds of interviews and when asked what question she has never been asked, she pauses and then says, “I guess it is ‘What problem do you want to fix?’ For me, it is domestic violence. I don’t know anyone personally who has been a victim of domestic violence, but I met someone, through someone else, and it made me want to do something.”
Despite her maturity on and off the court, Tuck said she and her close-knit teammates are a fun-loving crew who love to play pranks.
“People think we’re very serious,” Tuck said. “But we’re very goofy and we have lots of fun—always. We go to the mall, go to the movies, do puzzles. We go to hibachi, out to dinner or go bowling. Usually it is pretty much the whole team!”
After three trips to the White House to be honored for their victories, Tuck said the trip never gets boring. Her favorite restaurant is Applebee’s. She can’t resist Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and she’s been a Kobe Bryant fan since childhood.
But that will have to wait for now. After all, there is a Husky Victory Parade in the works and then Tuck will have to look for that fourth invitation to the White House.