NHS students get advice from a pro

Connecticut Sun forward Morgan Tuck, left, talks with Naugatuck High School seniors and DECA members Kelly Murphy and PJ Morrissey March 8 at the school. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Make the most out of your college experience.

That was the advice WNBA player and former UConn women’s basketball star Morgan Tuck had for the roughly 100 Naugatuck High School student-athletes and members of the school’s DECA chapter gathered in the school’s auditorium on March 8.

“It is a really fun time in your life and it’s only four years. So really try to enjoy it and not rush through it, because it really goes super quick. Once you graduate it’s not the same. So just enjoy college while you are there,” Tuck said.

Tuck, a four-time NCAA women’s basketball champion during her time at UConn, was drafted third overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2016 WNBA draft.

Tuck’s visit to NHS was orchestrated by DECA members and seniors PJ Morrissey and Kelly Murphy as part of their sports and entertainment promotion plan for the DECA competition.

Morrissey and Murphy are working with the Connecticut Sun on the project.

For the project, Murphy explained, they have to work on a promotion that includes publicity, social media, and advertising.

Their project finished second at the state DECA competition on Monday, and the pair will compete at the international competition at the end of April in Anaheim, Calif.

Morrissey and Murphy reached out to the Sun to see if the team could send a player to speak to students at Naugatuck High.

“They sent Morgan Tuck, which we were pretty excited about,” Morrissey said. “Nothing like this has ever happened here before, having a professional athlete come into our school. Especially a professional athlete that is as good as Morgan Tuck. So everyone has just been abuzz.”

Tuck’s path to basketball stardom started when she was 7 years old and wanted to be like her older sister, Taylor.

“I started playing and I wasn’t really good,” Tuck recalled. “But I just kept playing. I played a lot of other sports, but I stuck with basketball because it was my favorite.”

In middle school, Tuck said she started to take basketball more seriously.

“That’s pretty much what I did all the time — school and working out,” Tuck said.

By the time she had reached high school her skills had improved greatly. In ninth grade, Tuck was named the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year.

“That was a big surprise,” Tuck said.

In her junior year, she signed to play basketball at UConn.

“The best thing in my life was going to UConn. That was my dream school and I thought that was the best program,” Tuck said.

Although she loved her time in Storrs, she encouraged anyone who wants to play a sport in college to go where they would do best.

“The best advice I have is to go where you want to go, but go where it make sense. I know a lot of people always want to go to Division I, but you can go Division II or Division III and still be a successful player,” Tuck said. “You don’t want to go somewhere where you are really not going to play or you are just going to be sitting on the bench because that is not really enjoyable. I would say go somewhere that you fit and a place you really enjoy.”

Tuck said being a successful in college takes strong time-management skills and perseverance.

“When you’re in high school and you are playing your sport you know you have to work hard, be in the gym, and put in a lot of extra work. But when you guys get to college that time management is something that is kind of hard. Especially your first year because you go from where you are in high school and your parents are dictating what you are doing, telling you your curfew and making sure you do your homework, go to school and perform well. When you get to college it’s on you. So it can be, ‘I’m going to go to this party’ or ‘I’m going to go study,’” Tuck said.

During her sophomore season at UConn, Tuck tore the cartilage in her knee and was out for part of the season. This season with the Sun, Tuck tore cartilage in her other knee, requiring her to sit out the last eight games of the year.

“I’ve had four knee surgeries and I am only 22 and only played one year of pro. If I hadn’t had perseverance I would have stopped playing a long time ago,” Tuck said.

NHS interim Dean of Student Life and Athletic Director Brian Mariano knows a thing or two about being a successful athlete in high school and college, as well.

Mariano, a 2002 graduate of NHS, was a member of the first boys soccer team to win a state championship in 2001. He was also nominated for an ESPY Award for scoring the winning goal on a somersault throw-in in the title game.

He was the Class LL and State Open diving champion in 2000 and the Class L and State Open diving champion the following year.

Mariano earned a scholarship to Indiana University where he was the Big Ten Diver of the Year in 2006. He earned Division I All-American honors and was on two USA Diving Championship teams.

Mariano spoke to students about the legacy of playing for Naugatuck. He said he grew up watching his older siblings and cousins play sports at Naugatuck High.

“There was a real eagerness to get up here and play and represent Naugatuck High School. But the impact of that, playing sports here, didn’t really hit until after I left. Being able to represent your town and school in a way that sports offers really brings a sense of pride. We are a small town, and when you can do things that get us to a state or national level, it brings a little bit of respect, a little bit of pride back to our small community,” Mariano said.

Mariano told the students that when they are part of a team they are part of the Naugatuck legacy.

“Whether it is something big that happens to catch ESPN or whether you played in one game one season for Naugatuck High School, you are now a part of that tradition, part of that pride that our community values so much,” Mariano said.