The smallest player representing the smallest school made the biggest splash in the Denny’s College Slam Dunk Contest on Thursday night.
Illinois College senior Jacob Tucker, tagged the “dark horse” by celebrity judge and NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone, emerged victorious in the competition thanks to four jaw-dropping dunks, two of which earned perfect scores.
“It’s unbelievable,” Tucker said. “It’s still not quite sinking in yet. It probably won’t until I see it on TV.”
Tucker breezed through the first round thanks to a perfect score on his first dunk, a between-the-legs windmill jam. He followed with a high-flying 360 to advance to the second round. Tucker needed a perfect score in the semifinals to avoid a dunk-off with two other players, and he delivered with a 360 alley-oop off the side of the backboard.
In the finals, he grabbed the ball out of the hands of teammate Nathan Kohler and threw down a reverse jam to top the University of North Carolina Asheville’s John Williams.
Tucker said the journey from YouTube sensation to dunk contest winner has been an extraordinary one.
“The last three weeks have been a blur,” he said. “I never really expected this when I made the video – I wasn’t even sure it was good enough to get me into the contest – but it’s been an unbelievable ride.”
Tucker said the journey wouldn’t have been possible without the support he received from the Illinois College community and beyond.
“Obviously I wouldn’t have been here without their support in the first place,” he said. “It’s been an honor to represent Illinois College.”
Illinois College invites the community in welcoming Tucker back to campus on Monday, April 4, at 6 p.m.
Tucker will be escorted to the Bruner Fitness and Recreation Center by the Jacksonville Fire Department. The route will begin on Lincoln Avenue at Turner Junior High School and proceed north, through the Illinois College Walkway, south on Park Street and west on Edgehill Road before returning to the Bruner Center.
A reception in Sherman Gymnasium will follow. Jacksonville mayor Andy Ezard will proclaim the day Jacob Tucker Day in Jacksonville. Illinois College President Axel Steuer and Illinois College Director of Athletics Gale Vaughn will speak before turning the microphone over to Tucker.
People are encouraged to line the streets along the procession route to welcome Tucker back to Illinois College and Jacksonville, and attend the reception in Sherman Gymnasium. All members of the media are invited to attend. Tucker will be available for interviews after the reception.