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UW men's basketball: Tucker follows road to success

No current college basketball player has spent more time and traveled to more places to play the game over his career than the University of Wisconsin's Kirk Penney.

Thus, rooming with Penney on the road has been one of the greatest learning experiences this season for Alando Tucker.

"The coaches put us together, so I guess they saw something and figured he could help me out and give me some advice and tips on how to do things on the road," said the Badgers' prized freshman forward.

"He knows road trips are hard," Tucker added. "So with his leadership and seniority, it has prepared me for the road trips."

As the Badgers (20-6 overall, 10-4 Big Ten) prepare for their biggest road trip of the season - they take on Minnesota (16-8, 8-5) at Williams Arena Sunday in a nationally televised game they must win to stay on top of the Big Ten Conference standings - Tucker said the best lesson he learned from Penney is how to relax.

Prior to games, they will have a serious discussion about what they must do to succeed on the court.

They will talk about working hard and playing smart on the court. They go through UW coach Bo Ryan's checklist that includes understanding the opposition's tendencies and what it is trying to establish; what the Badgers can counter with; and understanding their strengths so they can play to those strengths.

Penney said his routine isn't anything special. "It's just experience from playing in different places and understanding when you play a lot of games that you have to watch trends and play hard and intense every game," said Penney.

But it is special because it's so simple and easy to understand. Tucker, for instance, learned that a pregame routine must include some levity.

Penney's recipe is watching the Discovery Channel. Tucker prefers watching cartoons, Tom and Jerry in particular.

"Jerry always gets the best of him. I want Tom to get the best of him one time," Tucker said.

The best times are reserved for the nights before games.

"I taught him how to rent movies in the hotel, how to sneak food up to the room," said Penney with a smile.

It's much more than that, according to the intense Tucker, who admitted he has a hard time sleeping because he's waiting for the next game to start. Penney calms him down by watching SportsCenter with him or just talking with him.

Tucker will listen to Penney talk about growing up in New Zealand and the adjustments he had to make in leaving his family to move to Madison. He'll also talk to him about all the places in the world he has traveled while playing for the New Zealand national team.

Tucker said Penney is a good listener, too, and will talk to him about growing up in Lockport, Ill., and the adjustments he has made living away from home for the first time.

But Tucker doesn't just spend time with Penney. The Badgers are an extremely close team and rarely do anything separately. All of them will gather in one room to talk and joke around the night before games.

Penney, of course, is right in the middle of it all. One of his greatest assets as a team leader is making sure the team stays tight-knit.

"He just showed me and told me what to expect on the road," said Tucker. "That really helped me a lot, especially this far into the season."

It shows statistically. Unlike most freshmen, Tucker's numbers don't drop off much on the road compared to at home. He's the team's second-leading scorer (11.6) and third-leading rebounder on the road (5.1). He's the team's third-leading scorer (12.7) and third-leading rebounder at home (6.5).

" 'Do' is a guy who has a great head on his shoulders," said Penney. "He is going to be just fine because he knows what it's all about at such a young age and he knows how to get intense enough for every game. There's a lot of hope for him."

Published: 8:46 AM 3/01/03