The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For Drake’s father-son duo, this season is a gift without a curse

Drake guard Tucker DeVries was the Missouri Valley player of the year. (Joe Puetz/AP)
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ALBANY, N.Y. — Tucker DeVries knew the question was coming, so he asked it himself. “What’s it like playing for my dad?” he said. Then with a grin, he answered: “Good days and bad days.”

The best story going into Friday’s four first-round games here is not the ongoing saga of Rick Pitino’s journey from Iona to St. John’s — which probably will happen Monday if the Gaels don’t win two games here — but the delightful father-son tale of Drake star Tucker DeVries and his dad and coach, Darian DeVries.

“I know we have our moments,” the father said Thursday afternoon. “But it’s been a great experience getting to coach Tucker.”

That’s a fair assessment, given that Tucker, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, is averaging 19 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. He was the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year and MVP of the conference tournament.

“As a coach, you miss things with your kids sometimes,” Darian DeVries said. “You miss games or tournaments or things you want to see because you’re on the road. Having the chance to coach Tucker and spending time with him while he’s in college has been a joy.”

DeVries — whose younger brother Jared played in the NFL for 11 seasons — is 47. He grew up in Iowa and played at Northern Iowa before becoming an assistant coach at Creighton, where he stayed for 20 seasons. When Dana Altman left Creighton for Oregon, Greg McDermott succeeded him and asked DeVries to stick around.

He did. McDermott successfully recruited his own son Doug to Creighton, and Doug became a star, the national player of the year in 2014 and the 11th pick in the NBA draft that year. He’s still in the league, playing nowadays for the San Antonio Spurs.

Tucker DeVries has a lot in common with Doug McDermott — in addition to being a coach’s son. He’s listed either as the same height or an inch taller, and like McDermott, he is an excellent three-point shooter, making 39 percent from outside the arc for the season. It helps that he’s surrounded by a veteran team: Three starters are fifth-year graduate students.

DeVries was highly recruited coming out of high school, and his father admitted there were some nervous moments wondering whether he was going to come to Drake or go to a Power Five school.

“I wanted to be absolutely certain the decision was his,” Darian DeVries said. “I knew he had a lot of opportunities, but I didn’t want him to think I was going to pressure him to come to Drake. I just hoped that, in the end, he’d want to come to Drake. Fortunately, it worked out that way.”

Tucker DeVries’s adjustment to college was eased by joining a Drake team that had just come off a 26-5 season and an appearance in the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. Most of the key players on that team returned. In fact, Tucker considered redshirting as a freshman.

“It seemed to make sense at first,” he said. “But as I worked my way into the team, I felt better about my ability to play and to contribute. So we decided I’d play as a freshman rather than wait a year.”

“I wanted him to earn playing time,” his father said. “We had a group of guys who had been very successful, plus there was the whole father-son dynamic involved. But the older guys were great from day one. I knew by the end of the summer that Tucker deserved the chance to play.”

That turned out to be a good call. DeVries led the team in scoring last season with 13.9 points per game and was named the MVC freshman of the year. This season, with a year under his belt, he improved all his numbers, and Drake went from 25-11 to 27-7.

Players and teams from “The Valley,” as the conference is known, are often overlooked, even as the teams change. In 2013, Wichita State made the Final Four. In 2018 Loyola Chicago and “Sister Jean” did the same. (Both schools later left the conference.) The high-water mark for Drake was way back in 1969, when the Bulldogs reached the Final Four before losing, 85-82, to UCLA and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor). That was by far the Bruins’ closest tournament game en route to their third straight title. Drake routed North Carolina in the third-place game, and that team is still talked about in Des Moines.

“The guys still come back,” said senior Garrett Sturtz, who is Drake’s all-time leading rebounder — at 6-foot-3. “It’s great when they still come to see us and tell us the stories of their team and how much they respect what we’re doing. They act like they should feel as honored to be around us as we should be honored to be around them.”

Dolph Pulliam, the best player on that 1969 team, worked at Drake until he retired in 2013. Recently, he sent Darian DeVries a copy of a photo sent to him by Abdul-Jabbar from that Final Four game. In the photo, he’s blocking one of Abdul-Jabbar’s shots. The note with the photo said, “I don’t think there are a lot of these floating around.”

No one from Drake is talking about a run to this year’s Final Four. The 12th-seeded Bulldogs will open Friday evening against No. 5 Miami, a team that won the ACC regular season title and made it to the Elite Eight a year ago. There is no way Miami Coach Jim Larrañaga is going to take Drake lightly. He knows from personal experience — when he coached George Mason in 2006 — how dangerous a double-digit seed can be.

The best news for Darian DeVries is that he’s not going to lose his son to the transfer portal or to the NBA. He will lose a number of experienced veterans to graduation but thinks his program is on solid ground, having won at least 20 games in all five of his seasons as its coach.

Whether Tucker develops into an NBA player the way Doug McDermott did is still unknown. But he’s certainly enjoying himself in college.

“I made a point to him that when the guys start cursing me in the locker room, he should join in,” his father said. “I want his experience in college to be as normal as possible. I’ve tried to make sure to give him some space.

“If this year’s ride ends tomorrow, it’s still been a fun ride.”

And one way or the other, there’s more to come for the DeVries family.