Melendez: Pasadena’s Tim Tucker takes cancer to task


This column appeared on page 3B of the Star-News sports section on Friday, April 24

They say that behind a good man stands a great woman.

For many of us, it’s our mother.

After all, who are we without them?

The last couple of weeks have been particularly tough on Pasadena High School boys basketball coach Tim Tucker. He, along with former Blair boys basketball coach Gamal Smalley, helped put together the first-ever Rio/Pac All-Star Basketball Game, to be played Saturday at Pasadena High.

The game will benefit Steven Adams, the Pasadena junior forward who in February underwent 10 hours of brain surgery to remove a mass behind his right eye that put pressure on the brain, causing double vision and headaches.

The mass was not found to be cancerous, but not many can count themselves as lucky.
In helping organize the event, Tucker is constantly reminded of the ordeal he went through the week of Thanksgiving last year. As a result, he’s hoping this game becomes something bigger than area high school fans watching two well-known leagues compete against one another.

Adams spent nearly two months at Children’s Hospital recovering from surgery. He started school Monday, walking and talking — simple acts that surprised many, including Tucker.

“There’s a lot of stories out there where kids won’t play again,” he said.

“To see Steven walk is crazy for me, because if you saw him when it first happened … I didn’t think he’d ever be able to do this again. We’re blessed.”

Proceeds from the event, co-organized by the Rev. Coy Turentine from Deliverance Tabernacle Church in Pasadena, will help pay for Adams’ hospital bills and months of rehab that lie ahead.

Adams’ cause, however, snowballed into something bigger.

Tucker and Smalley are members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, sponsors of “Coaches vs. Cancer Foundation” in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, which will also benefit from the proceeds.

“We’re hoping this takes off and becomes a signature game between the two leagues,” Tucker said.

“We want to be able to write a check at the end of the week to ‘Coaches vs. Cancer,’ because this is not just about the game. It’s also about the cause.”

A cause Tucker holds dear to his heart.

When his father, George, died from diabetes in 2001, Tucker brought his mother, Myrlean, to live with him.

She was there through it all, watching Tucker and his brother, George Jr., become basketball stars at Pasadena. The Bulldogs have made eight CIF finals appearances in the school’s history; Tucker and George Jr. have been in seven of those as either a player or Tucker as coach.

He was on the Pasadena team that won the national championship in 1977 and the 1978 team that won the CIF- Southern Section championship.

Tucker later became the school’s fourth basketball coach in its history, succeeding legendary coaches George Terzian, who coached Tucker, and Bill Duwe. Tucker just completed his 13th season. There’s nearly 50 years of service among Terzian, Duwe and Tucker.

Friends and family from First AME Church would congratulate Myrlean on Tucker’s success, especially after he took over the coveted post as Bulldogs coach.

“I know she was very proud of that,” Tucker said.

He cared for and watched over Myrlean, vibrant and charismatic about basketball as ever — it’s what Tucker loved most.

But one night, while watching Monday Night Football, Tucker noticed that Myrlean was not eating and her energy had been decreasing in recent days.

Tucker took Myrlean to the hospital that night. An MRI two days later revealed she had pancreatic cancer. There was nothing doctors could do.

Six days later, Myrlean died at the age of 78. She was buried the following Monday.

The basketball season steadily approached and Thanksgiving was just three days away, leaving Tucker numb at how fast everything transpired.

For 12 seasons, Myrlean gave Tucker a “good luck” kiss before the start of each game. That kiss never came this season.

“My mother was at every championship game that I had as a player and as a coach,” Tucker recalled.

“We’re a basketball family, and she was a basketball mom. I miss not hearing her talk about the game.”

Tucker wasn’t alone in his loss. Assistant coach Steve Darden could sympathize; he lost his wife, Stephanie, to breast cancer two years ago.

“She was a big supporter of our program,” Tucker said. “Cancer is one of those things you never understand.”

Cancer shows no prejudice. It attacks the young and the old, too often taking those who serve a purpose.

Just a few rooms down from Adams’ room at Children’s Hospital was 12-year- old Carter Milic.

She’s a sixth-grader whose father, Byrd Milic, is the girls basketball coach at Buckley High.

Carter and Adams underwent the same procedure, but Carter wasn’t so lucky. Her mass proved to be cancerous, and she eventually lost her hair after rigorous chemotherapy sessions.

Carter didn’t go through it alone, though. The Milic family shaved their heads in a show of support, and suffice it to say, the Milic family will be on hand at Saturday night’s special event.

“I knew something had to be done on my part,” Tucker said.

“Cancer is attacking young people. I lost my mother to that sad disease, and that’s why I wanted to get involved.”

Tucker’s birthday is on Mother’s Day, making May 10 especially tough.

Saturday night, however, will be Tucker’s subtle celebration of and tribute to his fallen mother, keeping her spirit alive by helping others in dire need.
(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4485

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