Illinois College senior Jacob Tucker won the NCAA State Farm Dunk Championship in Houston, Texas March 31. Add on the fact that Tucker is only 5’10” and suddenly it seems unbelievable.
How in the world does a 5’10” senior from a private, Division III liberal arts college win the 2011 State Farm College Dunk Championship, a national competition shown on ESPN? In Tucker’s case, it helps to have a Facebook following of over 12,500 and a 50-inch standing vertical leap — keep in mind, the height of the average American first grader is 45.2 inches.
In a video on YouTube that currently has almost 4 million views, Tucker showcases around 30 unique and jaw-dropping dunks. They range from simple 360s to his signature move, a dunk where he tosses the ball to himself and then puts the ball underneath and through his legs before finally slamming it home. And to top it off, Tucker stated that he completed almost all the dunks in the video in only one or two takes.
However, this viral video wasn’t just for fun. Tucker needed the buzz in order to actually compete in the Dunk Championship. In fact, he was only extended an invitation after being voted in by a Facebook fan poll. There are eight contestant, seven of which are selected by a committee — the other is a non-Division I athlete voted in by fans. This year, that athlete was Tucker.
On the voting process and publicity, Tucker commented, “It’s difficult to put someone else other than a Division I player in the contest because of publicity reasons. It’s hard [for the contest organizers] put someone in they don’t know. For [my personal] publicity, all this stuff has helped me a lot.”
Tucker competed against players from perennial NCAA Division I title contender University of Memphis and one of this year’s one-seeds, the University of Pittsburgh.
Besides coming from the smallest school in the competition, Tucker was the shortest contender by 5 inches. Will Coleman, a forward from the University of Memphis who participated in the contest, stands at 6’9″, almost a full foot taller. But when it came time for the dunking, the little guy from Illinois College didn’t disappoint his fans.
Tucker went on to win handily, scoring a 50 out of 50 on his first dunk, in which he put the ball between his legs off the bounce. The judges awarded him a 49 out of 50 on his last dunk after he jumped over a ball boy who held the ball above his head to sink a reverse dunk. Each of his dunks were creative works of art — an important aspect of how the judges judge the competition.
On the contest, Tucker stated, “It’s unbelievable, just because a lot of these other guys here are D-I players. 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.”
Midwestern, short — and humble. Tucker seems like a likeable guy, a player relatable to those of us who don’t stand heads above the rest. Some call him elevator man; some say he’s climbing Jacob’s ladder. Put it any way you want — the man is truly a sight to behold as he heads to the net.