ABBOTSFORD — For about as long as Julia Tuchscherer can remember, she’s had a knack for making all of the numbers add up.
She’s even done it in these challenging times, heading down the home stretch of her Grade 11 year at Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Secondary with a 4.0 grade point average within a core of science- and math-heavy classes.
Yet who knew that the Grizzlies’ 6-foot-2 basketball wunderkind, still just 16 years old, could formulate a hoops equation likely never pondered nor answered over the entire course of B.C. high school sports history?
Is it possible to graduate from high school a year early, then make the jump to the U SPORTS level the very next season, despite the fact that you wouldn’t have played a meaningful game in a year-and-a-half?
To see if she has indeed answered in the affirmative, check in on the Fraser Valley Cascades sometime this fall, and don’t be surprised if you see Tuchscherer, by that time still just 17, impressing with her strength and poise in the paint.
Of course, familiarity with the program won’t be an issue with her father Al Tuchscherer set to enter his 20th season at the helm of the Cascades in 2021-22, and her older sister Deanna Tuchscherer getting ready for her second UFV campaign following a pioneering decision to play professionally in Hungary (along with Cascades’ teammate Maddy Gobeil) when the pandemic wiped out this past season.
Yet beyond all of that, it’s a move that makes sense for Julia Tuchscherer based on her most unique qualities as both a high-achieving student, and as an athlete not only skilled enough to make the big jump, but already physically ready to handle its rigours.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to excel here,” Al Tuchscherer said this week. “I think she is ready for the challenges ahead.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that your best development takes place when you are challenged, and she is going to get challenged every day in practice,” the head coach said of his daughter, who not surprisingly was being heavily recruited by at least one Ivy League program.
“Canada West is a tough league with a lot of physical bodies,” Al Tuchscherer added, “so she will have to figure it out. We are pretty confident she can. She is a pretty cerebral player.”
IN A SEASON WITHOUT HOOPS, FINDING A NEW CHALLENGE
This past October, when it had become a near-certainty that the 2020-21 Canada West season would be cancelled, rising second year Cascades Maddy Gobeil and Deanna Tuchscherer elected to hop across the pond, signing respective professional deals in France and Hungary, each knowing it would not hinder their ability to return to UFV with eligibility in tact the next season. (Read full story here)
Right around the same time, as Julia Tuchscherer was entering her Grade 11 year at G.W. Graham, she too, pondered a big question: How to make the best decision for both her academics and athletics despite the unanticipated adversity brought on by the global pandemic?
“I was definitely thinking about what I wanted to do in the next couple of years,” admits Tuchscherer, who in 2019-20 was selected to Canada Basketball’s U-17 cadette national player pool but like the rest of the group, able to progress no further when COVID-19 struck last spring.
“I was thinking about the possibility of maybe graduating early.”
Unbeknownst to her, however, and before the pandemic had even hit, Al Tuchscherer had actually raised the possibility with assistant coach Dan Nayebzadeh, but more so in the context of a parent just happy that his daughter was getting good grades in high school.
“He hadn’t talked to Julia about it, but he’d just looked at her grades and said to me one day ‘You know, she could actually graduate early,’” remembered Nayebzadeh.
“I told him ‘Yeah, but remember, there could be some serious NCAA options here,’” continued Nayebzadeh. “We joked about it and then we didn’t talk about it again. But then, the pandemic hit.”
From that point forward, the idea just played itself out organically, fuelled by Julia Tuchscherer’s combined love of school, basketball and perhaps most importantly, challenges.
By the fall the idea was largely formed in her mind, yet as she said earlier this week, she wanted to prove it to herself in the classroom first.
“I was just going to see,” she began. “Pre-calculus 12 was my first Grade 12 class this year, right before Christmas. I did alright, so then it was ‘OK, now maybe we can do this. OK, now I am in the grad Class of 2021.’”
Putting on his father cap, Al Tuchscherer senses the readiness of daughter to seize a growth opportunity next season as a university student-athlete.
“She has always been a quiet, keep-to-herself kid,” he explained. “I think she is ready to maybe shed some of that and get a bit of a new start. Middle school and high school were the same place for her because G.W. Graham at the time was a combined middle-high school, so she’s been there for quite a while. So I think she’s just excited for a new opportunity to maybe just re-define herself a little bit.”
PRESENCE DESPITE YOUTH
While her actual skills will continue to grow and improve, Julia Tuchscherer’s identity as a powerful inside presence on the basketball court, despite her tender age, seems fully formed.
“The frame that she brings with her will be a huge impact… a positive impact to the team because we really got beat up inside by Alberta in our last game,” related Nayebzadeh of the Cascades’ last game, a 64-48 loss to Alberta back on Feb. 20, 2020 in the Canada West quarterfinals staged at Calgary.
The key stat that night: The Pandas outscored the Cascades 40-22 in the paint.
“Now, we can actually battle inside when we face that kind of physicality,” said Nayebzadeh, who has coached Tuchscherer for five years on the club circuit through Excel Basketball. “JT is a super-physical kid. She is really strong and she brings a skill-set and footwork that is pretty unique of a player that age and that size.
“She gives us a dimension we don’t currently have, and she gives us some rim protection we don’t currently have,” he continued.
Both Tuchscherers point to the familiarity and family feeling that staying home allows, and Cascades basketball is something which has been a part of Julia’s life from her earliest memories.
Nayebzadeh stresses the importance that backstory will play in her unique transition of joining a university program a full year ahead of schedule.
But he also adds that along her basketball journey, when the demands of game have put her to the the test, that Julia Tuchscherer has never failed to show her intangible pluses, the stuff best defined as presence in a time of team need.
“She has this demeanour,” Nayebzadeh said. “I have coached her already for five years, and in that time, playing some really tough competition, I have never seen her get rattled.”
Like in the summer of 2019 at the NIKE Tournament of Champions in Chicago.
“We were a skilled team but just so much-smaller than everyone we played,” Nayebzadeh said, “but Julia wasn’t just our tallest player, she brought such a presence to the court for us. We did really well over there because she was such an anchor. Everybody feels comfortable when Julia is on the court. I don’t think it’s going to be any different next season. She already has a good familiarity with the UFV players, and I think they’ll gravitate towards Julia, even as a young kid.”
For her part, the youngest Tuchscherer is determined to simply be who she is, and in the process, perhaps, make a new set of numbers add up.
“I have always played with or against people older than me, so I am not totally new to this,” she said. “These are like 20 year-olds and I’m only going to be 17, but I am going to go in there and be really competitive and aggressive and I won’t hold back. That is going to be the biggest thing for me.”
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