Heat’s PJ Tucker earns Dabo Swinney seal of approval with Tiger-like grit – The Mercury News

The basketball pedigree is as a Texas Longhorn.

But had there been a move in another sporting direction, PJ Tucker apparently would have been embraced as a Clemson Tiger.

At least that’s the impression created amid these Eastern Conference semifinals by Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney.

No sooner had Tucker’s relentless hustle as an undersized member of the power rotation helped provide the Miami Heat with a 1-0 series lead Monday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, then a Swinney embrace followed.

“I had Dabo out here,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra explained. “He and I have been friends for a few years. I’ve visited him. So as we were hanging out in Championship Alley after the game, Tuck came by, and he was the first guy Dabo went up to, and he said, ‘Man, I love the way you play. I love the way you compete. You could have played for us, back in the day.’ “

That’s Championship Alley as in the hallway that leads from the court at FTX Arena to the Heat locker room.

“And that’s the way PJ is,” Spoelstra said. “He’s extremely physical, obviously. He’s really competitive. He’s all about the plays in between, the hustle plays, the 50-50s. But he’s able to do it with an incredible discipline and a mind.

“I think that really is what separates him from just being an overly physical guy that’s just picking up six fouls in 10 minutes. PJ has a great feel and IQ for the game and he does it on both ends for us. That’s really important.”

Considering what Tucker, 36, has been willing to do on the hardwood when it comes to loose balls, Spoelstra has no doubt about what would ensue on the turf if Tucker was chasing down a fumble.

“I would not want to be in that pile,” Spoelstra said, “if he’s got a loose ball going for it.”

So perhaps all full circle, that chance meeting with Swinney earlier this week, considering that when Rick Barnes recruited Tucker to Texas, he quipped, “Am I here to recruit a basketball player or an offensive tackle?”

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