Skylar Tuckwood’s high school basketball career started under intimidating conditions.
When the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé High School standout was a freshman, she was a young player on a talented team that featured her skilled older sister, Sadie, who runs at Gonzaga University where her mile time has cemented a place in state history, as well as Kendyl Carson, who has since gone on to collegiate basketball success at Pepperdine University.
“My freshman year, Kendyl Carson was a very big part of our team; she led us through everything pretty much,” Skylar said. “I used to be scared to bring up the ball, and I didn’t always want it all the time, so I didn’t really see myself being a point guard this year. Freshman and sophomore year I was never thinking that I was going to be the point guard just because I didn’t want to be from not being super confident. I can say, though, that being a point guard has definitely helped with my level of confidence.”
But as the saying goes, pressure makes diamonds, and with the final act of Skylar’s JDHS basketball career about to begin, she is her state-bound team’s captain and leading scorer while playing well on the defensive end, too.
Over this season, Skylar led her team in scoring with 13 points per game, while racking up 91 total steals in 23 games. It’s a final high school season that as it turns out isn’t quite over. After losing to Thunder Mountain High School during the Region V tournament, the Bears secured an at-large bid to compete in state and are now set to play Colony High School in Anchorage on Wednesday, March 22.
“I’m excited for them,” said Skylar’s mom Cindy Tuckwood. “I think Ashley (Laudert) and Skylar were the only girls on the varsity roster at the time when JDHS won regions in 2020, but then COVID hit and we just never got to go to state. So, for the whole team, it’s a great opportunity. I’m proud of these girls, they’ve had a great season. I’m just grateful that they get to go, it’s super exciting. I told Skylar to have fun and to just go out and play ball like you know how to play ball.”
Cindy, an administrator for Sayéik: Gastineau Community School, said she and her husband Tim, a retired Alaska State Trooper, were athletic growing up but never quite to the extent of their three talented daughters. She said that while she enjoys running now as an adult, it was never much of a passion while growing up. Cindy said that while growing up on a farm in Wisconsin with 10 siblings, everyone was only allowed to pick one sport and for Cindy, that one sport was always basketball. But rather than directing their daughters toward any one particular sport, Cindy said she and her husband have instead always emphasized the importance of never quitting.
“We’ve always had the mentality that if you’re going to go out for a sport, you don’t have to be the best, but you have to do your best,” Cindy said. “Your team is counting on you, so you don’t have to win every meet, but you have to show up and work hard and do your best. That’s what our expectations are, you don’t show up and just go through the motions. Otherwise, don’t waste your coaches time, don’t waste your team’s time, that’s always been our philosophy. If you start something, you finish.”
That ability to choose allowed Skylar to pursue a sport that she most enjoyed.
“My family is really big on running and my older sister Sadie is really good at running, so we all just thought we’d just be a family of runners. I’ve done track and cross country, but I’ve been mostly focused on basketball all through middle school and high school,” Skylar said. “I like how it’s a team sport and you can’t just play one on five. You can grow throughout the games and I like the fact that none of the games are the same, it can be the same exact team but an entirely different game each time, I like that compared to running where you’re on the same course, trying to beat the same time, running with the same people and it’s like more of an individual sport I think.”
Cindy said the importance of effort and determination is something that all three of her daughters— including junior Rayna, a skilled basketball player and distance runner — have taken an understanding to. But Skylar seems to particularly apply the life lesson.
Cindy said that ever since Skylar started playing basketball, she’s made it a point, no matter what, to be in the Gastineau gym on Sundays shooting for at least two hours and on Saturdays, too, if she can manage it.
“She really works hard,” Cindy said. “It’s not like she has not put in a lot of time, she loves basketball. You can see it when she plays, I feel. When she first started on the team, she was the only freshman at the time.”
Skylar said the thing she’s most proud of from this year is just how much she’s seen the team grow and develop. She said she mostly sees growth in the level of aggressiveness whereas in the beginning of the year not everyone was as eager to take shots.
“We’ve grown a lot over the season as a team and as individual players and I’m most proud of that,” Skylar said. “I think we didn’t know how strong or weak someone might be in a certain position or knowing plays was another challenge, but all of that stuff just comes with practice and just getting to know your team. I think we did a good job of getting to know each other and growing as a team. I give a lot of the credit to coach Tanya, I think she did a really good job of finding the positions that best fit everyone.”
JDHS girls basketball coach Tanya Nizich, who took the reins from Steve Potter, said she couldn’t ask for a better group of individuals to find for her first year of coaching at Juneau-Douglas. Nizich said that even though this is her first year as JDHS head coach, she was already familiar with the Tuckwood family.
“I watched quite a few of their games last year and of course she stood out as a tremendous athlete but played her role on the team,” Nizich said. “This year she is a coach on the court for us and takes the lead. When you have a player that asks to go into the gym on her days off or after hours, you know that’s a special kind of player. She’s doing it to get better but also doing it to help her team be successful. She is an inspiration to her teammates and brings out the best in all of us.”
Nizich said that in addition to coaching, Skylar keeps her busy on her days off talking to college coaches every weekend. So far she’s received interest from a number of schools, such as Montana State University Billings, Clarke College, Wesleyan Nebraska University, Bridgewater College, Lewis and Clark College, Linfield University and Whitworth University.
“In my eyes, she defines a student athlete,” Nizich said. “She can be a goofball and make everyone laugh and then when it’s time to step on the court, her focus is beyond the zone. What impresses me the most is her stamina and court awareness. She is everywhere on the court and in every play. Just when you think she might be catching her breath she gets a steal, exhales on acceleration and blows by everyone to the basket for a layup. It’s fascinating to watch.”
As far as plans for the future, Skylar said she does plan to continue to play basketball in college, but where is still being determined. For the time being, Skylar said she’s just focused on staying in the moment and taking stock of all that she’s enjoyed during her time as a Crimson Bear and all that she’ll soon miss.
“We had a lot of fun this year. All of the teams we played were really good,” Skylar said. “Definitely just more in the moment. I’ll definitely remember all of the team trips up to Anchorage and the different players I’ve played with. I’ve played with a lot of talent. Also, the coaches, I love our new coach, I’ve definitely learned a lot from her. I’ve learned a lot from coach Potter last year, too. Honestly, I’ll remember all of it, I want to remember all of it, everything was fun all of the time.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.