'Big kid' Tucker is the picture of calm before the storm

Editor's note: ESPN's Shelley Smith will be traveling with the Wisconsin basketball team throughout the NCAA Tournament and will be filing regular All-Access pieces about the Badgers.

MADISON, Wis. -- The Wisconsin Badgers got good some news Wednesday with the limited return of Brian Butch, who injured his right elbow 2½ weeks ago against Ohio State and was projected to be out four to six weeks. Wearing a light brace, Butch took part in about half the practice, and head coach Bo Ryan said he expects Butch to practice again Thursday at the United Center.

Prior to the Badgers' last workout at home before departing for Chicago, Alando Tucker and Marcus Landry spent the morning at their apartment. If you didn't know any better, you would think two 5-year-olds were living there. Littered about are dozens of Tom and Jerry DVDs, a Superman blanket, a Superman Nerf hoop in the shower and SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer Nerf hoops in the living room.

"During the summer we take the furniture out and play full court," Tucker said of the hoops in the room, which is about 15 feet by 15 feet. "It's funny, all guys 6-3, 6-4, 6-5, playing on Nerf rims. We open the patio door and let the breeze come in."

Tucker maintains that he is nothing more than a big kid. Landry has two kids (who live with his wife and her mother in Milwaukee), so he easily relates to Tucker, who is currently watching the third DVD in the Harry Potter series. He said he never tires of SpongeBob, but his cartoon of choice is Tom and Jerry.

"No matter how many times you watch it over and over, Jerry always gets the best of Tom," Tucker said. "I'm thinking, 'Tom may get the best of him this time' -- just something mentally I go through, where I'm thinking, 'Tom, get him!'"

"I get to do something I love every day. Most of the guys I knew growing up don't get to do that. After I hurt my foot my sophomore year, I vowed to make every single minute after that count and to love every minute I'm around school and these guys, and I do."
-- Wisconsin's Alando Tucker

In this setting it is difficult to believe Tucker and Landry are the brains behind the Badgers, who were briefly ranked No. 1 in the country this season and who begin their quest to finish that way with an NCAA first-round game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday. The two are casual, relaxed, affable and funny, which, perhaps, is why they're so good when they step on the court together.

"We have a lot of chemistry together that relates [to] when we're playing," Tucker said. "One of the advantages is, me and Marcus talk about game situations here, and you can do that when you live together, around each other most of the time. I may explain, during the game, this is what you need to, this is what we need to do."

Tucker moved off campus for his junior year, rooming with Ray Nixon. When Nixon graduated, Tucker looked to Landry, who as a married man with two kids wouldn't be the typical sophomore roommate. Tucker also wanted someone he could take under his wing, someone he could pass the torch to as the leader of this team.

Landry is quiet, but he is becoming more assertive under the tutelage of Tucker. During an interview about their relationship, Landry held his own as he sat alongside Tucker and was quick to laugh at all of Tucker's jokes. Tucker said he can relate to what Landry is going through, having to juggle family life with school and basketball, something he learned from his older brother, Antonio.

"He was young and married and had a family and then going into the military was hard being away from his family," Tucker said. "I know it was hard. He was young [and] wanted to be with his family. I tried to be there as much as I could."

To Tucker, that's real pressure. Watching his mother raise five children primarily on her own is extreme pressure. What he's doing -- a senior leading his team into the tournament for one last shot at it all -- well, that's that's merely "living the life."

"I get to do something I love every day," Tucker said. "Most of the guys I knew growing up don't get to do that. After I hurt my foot my sophomore year, I vowed to make every single minute after that count and to love every minute I'm around school and these guys, and I do."

Tucker and Landry spent Wednesday morning eating cereal and fried chicken (doesn't everyone) and then headed to a science class before practice. They'll room together on the road, which, with two nights before game time, promises to be full of surprises.

Actually, they guarantee it.