CONYERS -- The moment Darryl Tucker realized he had officially made it wasn’t when he stepped off a plane in Denmark, but rather when he sat down to grab a quick bite to eat in a country he had never once imagined stepping foot into just a few short years ago.
A once high school afterthought at Rockdale County, Tucker’s alma mater, where he didn’t start in a varsity contest until his junior season, the 23-year old found himself wheels up to a foreign country to play professional basketball.
Tucker always dreamt of playing professionally, but after playing for three colleges, Georgia Perimeter College, Central Georgia Tech and the University of West Florida, his path to the big leagues was wonky.
It took the 6-foot-6 Conyers native a tryout at a showcase in Las Vegas last summer to turn his dream into a reality. Following a great showing in front of scouts, Tucker was picked up by Horsens IC Denmark, a professional team based in the Basketligaen league.
“I wound up going to a couple of camps and did pretty well there,” Tucker said. “After that, I hired an agent, World Wide Sports and it was pretty much a waiting period from there. I received a call from the team in Denmark and told me that they wanted me to play for them. I hopped on a jet and went to Denmark.”
Arriving in Denmark in time to begin the team’s preseason, which lasted nearly two months, Tucker was given a quick dose as to what to expect living in a foreign country.
The biggest learning curve? The danish cuisine.
“It was definitely a culture shock,” Tucker said. “One thing that I had a problem with was the food. I’m a momma's boy when it comes to food. My mom can cook, so it was a challenge to get used to their cooking style and their food. They have OK food, but not like in America.”
Not knowing whether or not there would be a language barrier in his new hometown of Horsens, Tucker quickly found out there would not be an issue communicating on a day-to-day basis.
“Everybody spoke english,” Tucker said. “The fact that they learn so much about America, that really surprised me. You could walk down the street and go up to anybody and they speak english.”
Known as being a very attentive person, it wasn’t hard for Tucker to name his favorite part about living outside of the United States.
“My favorite thing was observing how people live,” Tucker said. “In America, people live totally different. There aren’t a lot of fast food places there, more open land. People over there communicate with each other a lot more than people in America. They don’t take out their phones. They’ll sit down and have a conversation with you.”
Before ever playing a game, Tucker had an opportunity to travel outside of Denmark, something both he and his teammates took full advantage of.
“During the preseason, we went to Bosnia and I dove to Germany with my teammates. There were other countries that we went to around Bosnia. It was nice. It’s different there even compared to Denmark, so I was observing everything and taking pictures.”
Tucker made his professional debut on Sept. 30, 2018. He scored six points and stole three passes in 19 minutes coming off the bench. In his first 12 professional games, Tucker averaged 12.8 points, including a career-best 26 while in the starting lineup.
In his eyes, the start to the season was a struggle. A steep learning curve was a minor set back, but something he eventually grew accustomed to as the season progressed.
“At first, it was a struggle to learn the system,” Tucker said. “It’s totally different basketball from America. It’s more individual in America. One player can have 15 shots. Over there, it’s not about that. It’s about the team. Make the extra pass, do the little things. They play smart more so than they do individual. You won’t average 15-20 shots on the team.”
Tucker finished his 23-game regular season slate averaging 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, he averaged 9.9 points and 4.2 rebounds. All-in-all, his 33 games played in will only help him moving into his second year of professional basketball.
“What I did was try to learn as much as I can so that when I go overseas this year, I’ll be more prepared,” Tucker said. “I did OK this season, but my expectations are through the roof. So I just need to do better and this summer, I’ve been working hard to do that.”
Tucker thanked his teammates in helping become a professional, both on and off the court.
“I had the most competitive players that I’ve ever played with, on and off the court,” Tucker said. “They would study the game like no other. That made me really take basketball seriously. It’s not what you do on the court, but more so what you do off the court. Watching film, getting in shots. They taught me how to be a professional both ways.”
Overall, having the opportunity to live and play in Denmark for just shy of 10 months was an experience he cherished from the first day that he landed.
“It was great,” Tucker said. “The people treated me very kindly. They are crazy about basketball, so that was good. Just playing there and the great atmosphere, every game was packed. It was a blessing. Traveling the world, you get to see a lot of things that you don’t get to see in America.”
With the season ending in early May, Tucker made the trek back to Conyers, where he has continued to work out and improve his game during the offseason. He was recently back on campus at Rockdale to catch a Bulldogs practice and chat with the team.
Majoring in social work in college, Tucker said making sure he stays active in the community is very important to him.
“My family, April and Darryl Tucker, instilled in me that once you go forward, always reach back,” Tucker said. “I’ve always had that mindset that If I ever get any type of success, I’m always going to reach back. If they listen, they listen and if they don’t, they don’t. But my parents did a good job on that and I appreciate that.”
On top of giving his girlfriend, Sabrina Bernard credit for showing him support during his journey, he pointed to the devout work of his stepmom, April, who helped instill hard work from an early age.
“She pushed me in ways that nobody has ever pushed me,” Tucker said of April. “She would wake me up early in the morning to get some shots up, or telling me that I needed to work out. She’s never watched basketball, but she tells the truth. She always held me accountable and I wouldn’t be playing basketball without her.”
Set to begin his second professional season in little over a month, a contact has not yet been signed by Tucker. He is set to compete in yet another showcase in Las Vegas with teams already eyeing his services, including a professional team based out of Saudi Arabia.
For now, Tucker has been focused on the little things and hasn’t worried about which jersey he will wear next fall.
“What makes me truly happy now is buying my family dinner and buying my dad a watch that he always wanted,” Tucker said. “That’s what it’s all about.”