Whether it be this Wednesday against Tulane or Feb. 8 against No. 2 South Carolina, the UConn women’s basketball will be back at full strength as Morgan Tuck makes her return to the lineup.
Tuck has been out since the Huskies’ game against UCF on Jan. 20 with pain in her right knee, something that has plagued her since her sophomore season, when she had season-ending surgery on the knee in order to help alleviate pain she originally had.
Since sitting out the rest of her sophomore year to recover from that surgery, Tuck has begun writing one the most unique legacies at UConn as an elite player. She is possibly one of the top five to seven players in the country, yet she is overshadowed by two teammates (Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson) that are somehow even better.
Tuck narrowly missed joining Stewart and Jefferson as All-Americans as she posted 14.4 points and 5.5 rebounds helped lead the Huskies to their third-straight national championship.
It’s easy to look at results from the games that Tuck has missed and claim that the Huskies are fine without her, but as the competition gets tougher, the Huskies will need to rely on Tuck more than ever if they want to win their fourth-straight title.
In 15 games this season, Tuck is averaging 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds. Outside of teammate Breanna Stewart, Tuck is probably the most versatile player on the team. She can score with both hands and an arsenal of post moves and isn’t afraid to pop outside and hit an elbow jumper or a 3-pointer, where she’s shooting 33 percent this year.
Tuck’s presence down low opens up the floor for Jefferson, Kia Nurse, Stewart and shooters like Katie Lou Samuelson. With Tuck on the floor, Stewart can play outside as well as man the high post, where she can utilize her tremendous athleticism to shoot or get to the rim.
There isn’t better looking basketball on the East Coast than when Stewart and Tuck play their two-man inside-outside/high-low game. Watching those two terrorize opponents relentlessly is something that never gets old.
With Tuck healthy and back in the lineup, it should make the upcoming matchup with South Carolina the most entertaining matchup of the season in women’s basketball, and solidify UConn’s position as the clear favorite to win their fourth-straight national championship.
Tuck, Stewart and Jefferson’s historic quest for four national titles is fascinating, but what is even more interesting is what might happen after. Stewart and Jefferson are gone, likely the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the WNBA Draft. Tuck, a redshirt junior, is eligible to join them, and given her history probably should.
As crazy as it sounds, leaving early for the WNBA has been done before by players just as talented as Tuck. Just last year, Notre Dame’s Jewell Lloyd and Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B. turned pro as underclassmen and were selected No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. While it’s never been done by a player at UConn, there’s precedent for it.
Tuck has been on the record saying she’s at least considered the move, but reiterated she plans to come back for her redshirt senior season for a chance to win another national championship. But that was before her knee pain, which was not a major issue last season, flared up again and caused her to miss a handful of games this year.
Not to mention, another season of basketball means more wear and tear on her knees. Why not spend that season making money (albeit not much, but a decent amount) professionally instead of another year in Storrs? Granted, the WNBA or leagues overseas aren’t putting out NBA-money, but it’s certainly a step up from the meal money she gets from UConn.
Financially, it’s a no-brainer to go pro and take the money while she can get it. Getting a head start on her professional career means a head start on a rookie contract and gaining professional experience that could lead to bigger contracts later in her career. With her knees accumulating more miles and possibly causing more pain, that one-year head start could lead to a big gain financially.
That being said, Tuck’s absence would be a major blow to UConn’s 2016-17 team, who would have only one senior, Saniya Chong, if Tuck is to leave. However, with Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier developing and a strong recruiting class next year, the Huskies would be able to survive. But as much of a team game as UConn basketball is, that’s not the issue here when someone’s personal and financial health is at stake.
Maybe Tuck does go pro, either to the WNBA, overseas or both as so many female players do. Maybe she returns to Storrs to try and win another championship. Regardless of her decision, she’ll be back soon to see her name join Stewart and Jefferson’s in the Huskies of Honor.