During the 2020-21 high school basketball season, word began to spread, not only locally but nationally, about a freshman at Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph High School with preternatural gifts.
That was confirmed during his first high school season when Bryson Tucker averaged 16 points per game. Longtime observers of basketball in Baltimore knew they were watching something special.
Perhaps they even dared to envision him staying in the city to refine his game — a now-unusual path for elite players but one that seemed possible given the level of play here.
Sure enough, though, Tucker would depart amid controversy for a basketball factory — and the story would get even more interesting from there.
Now, on the cusp of his senior year — and after a summer in which he intermittently appeared alongside the best of the best but was conspicuously absent at other times — there’s one question that everyone is asking:
What’s next for Bryson Tucker?
In the beginning
Tucker was special from the beginning.
“Bryson is one of the most skilled, versatile young players that I have ever seen,” said Pat Clatchey, the Mount St. Joe’s legend who is third on the all-time Maryland coaching list with close to 800 career wins, trailing only the acclaimed Morgan Wootten (1,274 wins at DeMatha) and Wicomico’s Butch Waller (896).
“He’s got the footwork, the skills, the fundamentals, the ability to make a variety of shots,” Clatchey continued. “He has a great feel for the game and is very cerebral. He’s one of those guys that can see things one step ahead of everyone else and has a great blend of versatility. He’s a big-time talent.”
Derek Toney, an editor and writer for Varsity Sports Network (owned by The Baltimore Banner) has covered high school basketball in Baltimore since 1992. He said Tucker was the best freshman he saw since Mark Karcher starred for St. Frances in the 1990s.
“Bryson has an uncanny understanding of the flow and subtle nuances of the game,” he said. “He’s athletic, not overwhelmingly athletic, but he can take control of a game in many ways. ... There’s a pretty fluidness to his game. When I watched him that freshman year, I can honestly say that he never made a bad play. He always seemed to be in the right place and always made the right decision based on what the situation dictated.”
Tucker spent the summer after his breakout freshman year playing for the USA Basketball National Team that won a gold medal at the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Xalapa, Mexico. Despite being one of the youngest members of the squad, he averaged 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds while playing only 19 minutes per game.
During his sophomore campaign, the 6-foot-7 Tucker played the majority of the year at point guard and was among the top-ranked small forward prospects in the country. He led the Gaels to a 32-7 record, along with titles in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and Baltimore Catholic League, while averaging 22.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“His strength right now is really his IQ and his understanding of the game,” his father, Byron Tucker, told On3.com’s Joe Tipton in March 2022 after Bryson was offered a scholarship to Duke. “Those are his major strengths, along with his fundamental skill set. I see him as being a Cade Cunningham-type kid. When I talked to [Duke coach] Jon Scheyer, I told him it’s like Jayson Tatum and Grant Hill had a child together.”
According to On3, Tucker is a five-star recruit and the 13th-best player in the class of 2024.
“That kid has a chance to be the best player to come out of the Baltimore Catholic League since Carmelo Anthony,” Sam Brand, the former Poly coach who is now the director of Anthony’s Nike-sponsored Team Melo AAU program, said last year. “He’s that good, that polished. And his basketball IQ is off the charts. He’s a special and rare talent.”
Making a move
In early June after Tucker’s sophomore year, word leaked that he would be transferring to IMG Academy, a boarding school in Bradenton, Florida, that has among the best prep hoops programs in the country.
IMG won the 2019 Geico High School National Championship, and it plays a highly competitive national schedule. The atmosphere there replicates the intensity, travel itinerary and grueling schedule of a top college program.
Baltimore enthusiasts were disappointed they wouldn’t be able to see Tucker play his final two years of high school, but from a basketball perspective the move made sense.
IMG is a veritable factory that churns out an astounding array of talent. Three alumni – Jarace Walker, Keyonte George and Jett Howard – were selected in the first round of the 2023 NBA draft. Zach Edey, the reigning national college player of the year for Purdue, also played at IMG.
On the outside, transferring to play at the highest level of prep basketball seemed like a no-brainer. But, for those close to the situation at Mount St. Joe’s, the road was bumpy. They don’t attribute that to Tucker, though.
Tucker’s father — who did not respond to requests for an interview — is viewed by some in the local basketball community as the ultimate sports helicopter parent. Having trained his son since he was 5 years old, he’s actively involved in every aspect of Bryson’s burgeoning career. Some say he’s a no-nonsense parent who has nothing to apologize for and, based on his own experiences in the game as a former prep prodigy and NCAA Division I athlete, is making decisions based on what he believes to be in Bryson’s best interest, regardless of how anyone on the outside feels.
Byron Tucker, who stood 5-foot-9 as a prep freshman before a growth spurt pushed him up to 6-foot-10, was considered a top-75 recruit when he came out of Potomac High School in 1987.
The silky small forward committed to play at North Carolina State. Byron redshirted his freshman year and then played just three games for the Wolfpack in 1988-89 before transferring to George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia. He went on to excel with the Patriots, averaging 16.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 63 career games.
Byron played a few years of pro ball in Europe, but the NBA dream never materialized.
When Bryson was at Mount St. Joe’s, Byron could be seen during games in the stands, often isolated from the other parents, yelling instructions that were counter to what the coaching staff was calling, sometimes berating his son’s teammates for all to hear. It all came to a head on March 12, 2022, when Bryson scored a game-high 34 points in the Gaels’ 89-82 double-overtime win over Gonzaga at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament in Frostburg.
“Bryson was unbelievable in that game,” Clatchey said. “He looked like he was out there playing a video game. It was a remarkable performance that spoke to just how gifted the kid is.”
But, during the game, his dad was being loudly critical of another Mount St. Joe’s player and kept barking at him. At one point, the player turned in Byron’s direction as he was running downcourt and yelled back.
After the final buzzer, as Clatchey was walking toward the scorer’s table, he heard Byron quickly approaching him, saying, “Coach! Coach! Coach!”
“You know that was our last game tonight, right?” Clatchey recalled Tucker telling him.
Byron explained that the player shouting at him was unacceptable and that it was the end of Bryson’s time on the team, Clatchey said.
When the team suited up for its final game of the season the next day, Bryson Tucker was not in uniform. Byron had taken him home. The basketball relationship at Mount St. Joe’s had run its course
“Bryson finished out the school year at Mount St. Joe’s, where he was a terrific student who always exhibited exemplary behavior,” Clatchey said. “I would have loved for him to stay. Because not only was he an extremely talented and skilled player, he was just an awesome young man who was a great teammate. I wish Bryson nothing but the best. He’s an NBA talent for sure and I hope he has a great career, which he’s certainly capable of doing.”
At IMG this past season, Tucker, who holds scholarship offers from Michigan State, Duke, Kansas, Auburn, Indiana, Maryland, Georgetown, Illinois, Notre Dame, Villanova and Michigan, among others, sparkled on the national stage with a slew of brilliant performances.
He earned MVP honors at the prestigious Hoophall West Classic after scoring a game-high 24 points in a win over a tough Long Island Lutheran squad in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Dec. 9.
But by the time it arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, for a Hoophall Classic game on Jan. 14 against Georgia’s Newton High School and its elite recruit, Stephon Castle, a UConn commit, Bryson Tucker was no longer on the IMG roster. Head coach Sean McAloon and other team members, when questioned about Tucker’s absence, were tight-lipped at the postgame press conference.
The circumstances behind his departure remain a mystery.
Unfortunately, the optics weren’t great. Over the past two years, Tucker has left both of his teams before the season ended. It is not out of the ordinary, in today’s climate, for players to switch schools frequently, even in high school — but leaving in the middle of a season will be seen as a red flag.
Bryson Tucker sightings have been few since he left IMG. He doesn’t play AAU basketball, so there were no highlight clips of him schooling the competition on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League or Under Armour Association spring and summer circuits.
He did make an appearance toward the end of June at the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 camp in Orlando, putting his name back on the radar as perhaps the best combo guard/small forward prospect in the country.
And in mid-March he appeared in an Under Armour commercial for its latest “Protect This House” ad campaign with Steph Curry, Hall of Fame coach Dawn Staley, Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces and the University of South Carolina’s reigning women’s college basketball player of year, Aliyah Boston, before she became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever.
On July 16, he made an appearance at the Nike Pro City Jabbo Kenner League in Washington, D.C., lighting up some of the best college players in the area while scoring 20 points, collecting three rebounds and a steal and shooting 60% from the floor. He won player-of-the-game honors.
He surfaced again in St. Louis to compete against the most talented wing players in the country, including Maine’s Cooper Flagg and Boston’s AJ Dybantsa, at Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum’s inaugural JT Elite Camp. He also shared the court with Tatum, Chris Paul, Bradley Beal and Paolo Banchero at the camp.
There’s speculation that he will make another appearance before the summer is out at the Nike Pro City Jabbo Kenner League on Georgetown’s campus. There’s a possibility that he will pop up at the Locked In Elite Showcase event in Springfield, Virginia, on Saturday. Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess as to when, or where, we’ll see him again.
Since he left IMG in December, the rumor mill has been operating at full throttle. Some observers wonder if he’ll play for Overtime Elite, a program that pays its high school-aged players and prepares them for the NBA, or in the G-League next year. Others have him reclassifying — despite recently turning only 17, making him young for his class — and showing up in August on the Michigan State campus to suit up for Tom Izzo’s Spartans
Others say he’s been checking out DeMatha and other schools in the highly competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, or maybe Massanutten Military Academy, a boarding school in Woodstock, Virginia.
The truth is that no one really knows, save for Bryson and Byron.
There’s no doubt Bryson Tucker’s basketball future is beyond bright. The question is: What’s the next step?
“I get asked this question at least 10 times a week. ‘Hey, where’s Bryson Tucker going next year?’” said Clatchey, his former coach at Mount St. Joe’s. “I tell them all the same thing: that I have no idea and haven’t heard a thing.”