COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Before Talen Horton-Tucker heads to Iowa State to start a promising college basketball career, the former Simeon star participated in the USA Basketball U18 national team tryouts in Colorado Springs.
One of 33 players in his age group vying for only 12 spots on the U18 national team, Horton-Tucker was cut from the competitive tryouts over the weekend. The 6-foot-4 Horton-Tucker won't be traveling to Canada to represent the United States this summer. But even though Horton-Tucker was cut from the team, he made a strong impression on many of the scouts and coaches in attendance.
Registering a startling 7-foot-1 wingspan and showing his unique versatility on the wing, Horton-Tucker showed flashes of strong play during his time at the tryout. USA Basketball is often searching for specific skills to fill out its roster, however, as Horton-Tucker was ultimately left off the team.
"He's one of the guys who stood out the most to me at USA in Colorado Springs," Mike Schmitz of ESPN's Draft Express said of Horton-Tucker.
"I think he's going to be an instant impact guy [at Iowa State] just because of his feel, his physicality. Obviously, he's long. I just think with his maturity and his ability to think the game with those physical tools, he'll have an impact, I would imagine, as a big-time starter right away."
"It's crazy. Just being able to do something like this before college, it's a blessing," Horton-Tucker said of his USA experience.
"Just seeing myself as a college basketball player. Competing against the best guys every day and just preparing myself for every situation."
Although Horton-Tucker drew some strong reviews for his play, there were also some things he'll need to work on before he arrives in Ames for freshman year.
The thin air of Colorado Springs can quickly make life difficult on participating players. This was something scouts noticed, in particular, with Horton-Tucker. Getting in even better shape for college is likely the next step for Horton-Tucker before he begins at Iowa State.
"I think he has to get himself in better shape. I think he weighted around 240 pounds. So, probably just trimming down 10-to-20 pounds," Schmitz said. "I was surprised though. I thought he was one of the better players there. Just trimming down, finishing around the rim a little better. And for a guy who can pass as well as he can, sometimes he has a tendency to just jack a quick three. So just picking his spots a little bit better."
During a busy few weeks of basketball in Chicago, Horton-Tucker has been putting in workouts all over town. A gym rat who can often be found watching basketball when others are working out — Schmitz said Horton-Tucker was watching NBA Draft workouts at UIC in May — Horton-Tucker is doing everything he can to improve his game. Sometimes, Horton-Tucker will work out at Simeon. During other times, he'll get a workout in with his uncle at anywhere an open gym can be found in Chicago.
Since the NBA offseason is also in full effect for most of the league, Horton-Tucker has worked out some with former Simeon star and Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker.
"I'm really close with Jabari. We just worked out. I was just at his house and we were playing in the city right before I left for here. It's always been great playing with guys like that," Horton-Tucker said.
Working out with a local legend like Parker gives Horton-Tucker a measuring stick for the next levels of basketball as he's hoping to come in and compete for heavy minutes right away at Iowa State.
"His steps were a lot bigger because he was the No. 1 player in the country and did all of these great things. He won two gold medals. But just being able to look up to somebody that I can call on a regular basis, giving me info on things I need to do to get better for college and the next level is big," Horton-Tucker said of Parker's influence.
Horton-Tucker is planning on getting to school later this summer as he continues to build a relationship with his fellow local Cyclone incoming freshmen — Corliss big man George Conditt and Hinsdale South wing Zion Griffin. The Chicagoland trio are all hoping to make an impact at Iowa State as early as next season as the Cyclones are trying to be more competitive in the always-loaded Big 12.
"They just want me to come in ready. They already think I'm ready to play college basketball skill-wise. But as my body gets better, and I mature more, things will come easier," Horton-Tucker said.
"Obviously everybody wants to start but just coming in and working is my focus."
As Horton-Tucker embarks on the next step of his basketball journey, he also can look back fondly at his memorable career at Simeon. Although he has a chip on his shoulder after not winning Mr. Basketball or a state title, Horton-Tucker has taken comfort in his legacy for being on one of the better Illinois high school teams of the past decade.
"I feel like I had the best senior year. Even though I didn't win a state championship, I won three city championships. I think I left a really good legacy at Simeon. I'm just happy for my teammates. I think there's like seven of us going to college [for basketball]," Horton-Tucker said.
"You know, even though we came up short we were still great."