Heads turned when Minneapolis Public Schools announced Trent Tucker would become the district’s new athletic director.
Paired with the excitement of hiring a former Gophers basketball star and NBA champion were questions.
What are his qualifications, especially given the challenges of nurturing sports in a big and difficult urban environment? Where is his administrative experience? Can he turn around what many consider a lost cause?
Overcoming doubt and distraction isn’t new to the 11-year NBA veteran, who landed the job with confident answers, experience raising money and an unwavering message focused on kids.
He is a product of the inner city. He is a Flint, Mich., native who aspires to create for Minneapolis youth the kind of hope that he was introduced to by community leaders when he was their age. These days, he says, “negativity doesn’t enter into my process.
“You do the best you can and with what you have,” Tucker said. “Someone that has been here longer than me may understand things more. … But I’m coachable. I’m fully invested. Willing to learn.”
It’s this mentality he believes will help him address serious issues bedeviling Minneapolis athletics. The city’s student-athletes are leaving for suburban schools. Negative influences are a daily battle in the urban environment. Facilities are old. Participation numbers are down.
The retirement last fall of then-athletic director John Washington prompted Tucker to pursue a more official title for helping inner-city youth. Up until then he had done so through his foundation, All 4 Kids, which helps underprivileged youth find direction and build a successful future.
As a former professional athlete, Tucker hopes to use his status — one that draws him extended greetings wherever he goes — to improve the district’s ability to network and fundraise.
But Tucker is not measuring success at the outset with brick-and-mortar plans or specific financial goals. Tucker said he first wants to listen to what the kids want to see change. The next step, fundraising, will show donors how an investment will make a positive return on a young person’s life.
Tucker’s goal, he explained, is to make sure students are moving in the right direction and that he and his staff are doing everything possible to give students the best chance to be successful. If he does that successfully, he believes city athletics will begin to turn around.
Tucker was the unanimous selection from among five finalists after one round of interviews. He exemplified most of chief administrative officer Mark Bollinger’s vision when he rewrote the high-profile job description. Bollinger sought someone who could offer an effective business plan, take action, analyze and communicate well.
Bollinger believes Tucker’s experience as an athlete, analyst, public speaker and head of his foundation provided the tools to fulfill the role. Any lack of experience, Bollinger said, was far outweighed by the unique benefits the former pro athlete could offer.
“His experience is all the way from when he was in school growing up,” Bollinger said. “We needed to be able to do something different.”
Foundation made a difference
Tucker also offered a vision to close the gap between his administrative office and the student-athletes. In three weeks on the job, he has visited most of the city’s public schools, beginning with North High and emphasizing the district’s middle schools. He listened to students and promised them hope for a better future.
“As a basketball player, my championship was a gold trophy. I believe as a school administrator, our championship is making sure our kids are well qualified for the future,” Tucker said. “Once you earn the trust of these kids, we have to keep our promises. It has to be about the kids.”
For the past 20 years, Tucker has sought to make a difference in young people’s lives.