Food, family and the future: A Q&A with Chicago native and Lakers’ G-League standout Talen Horton-Tucker

Horton-Tucker smiling after the Lakers seal their victory on Wednesday night. (Photo by: Nate Schwartz, Medill News)

By Nate Schwartz
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES – Talen Horton-Tucker was something of a legend in the Chicago high school basketball world. The Uptown native garnered national accolades throughout his career at Simeon Career Academy High School where he held a 20.5 ppg/8.7rpg/4.8apg stat line his senior year and led his team to a 29-4 record, but that was merely the prologue to his career story.

After one season at Iowa State, Horton-Tucker declared for the NBA draft and was selected 46th overall by the Orlando Magic then immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Horton-Tucker is currently a starting guard for the South Bay Lakers, the Lakers’ G-League affiliate, and is the second youngest player to be featured on an NBA roster during the 2019-20 season.

Medill Reports’ Nate Schwartz had the opportunity to chat with Horton-Tucker on Wednesday night, after his colossal performance against the Utah Stars where he put up 27 points, nabbed eight rebounds and delivered five assists in 33 minutes of play.

Talen Horton-Tucker exchanging words with Utah Stars forward Malik Benlevi on Wednesday, Feb. 12. (Nate Schwartz/MEDILL)

What was the Chicago to L.A. transition like?

The culture here is really different, so that was a huge change for me, I’ve had the chance to see a lot of different things. Back in Chicago, especially right now, you know everybody’s cold, but out here everybody’s just enjoying the weather and living their best life and I feel like that’s probably the biggest change.

Is there anything back in Chicago that you particularly miss?

Oh of course, I miss Portillo’s and Harold’s. Those are definitely my favorite spots out there. But you know I gotta stay off that stuff so it’s probably good for me to be away from it.

Portillo’s aside, is there any place that you go or thing that you do when you feel like you need to take a mental break from basketball?

I really just try to spend as much time with my family as possible. My mom comes out a lot and my auntie too, really my whole family. They help to keep me sane whenever I’m not around basketball.

Now that we’re at the midpoint of the season–looking back, how has your experience in the G-League been so far?

It’s been nothing but an upwards direction for me so far. I feel like I’ve been getting better and better. I’m getting comfortable with the NBA style of play and I’m realizing my own potential and building my confidence to play.

What are your expectations for the second half of the season?

My expectation is to keep getting better every day. I want to be the best player that I can be every single game here until my name gets called up to the Lakers, whenever they need me. That’ll be my main focus for the rest of the year.

Horton-Tucker working on his 3-point shooting at practice on Wednesday morning. (Nate Schwartz/MEDILL)

What was the transition like from college to here?

The experience has been great. Out here, I get to see LeBron (James) and AD (Anthony Davis), real stars and masters of their craft. It’s great for me to see that every day and observe and learn from them. It teaches me how I need to do my work.

What advice from them has stuck with you the most?

To always be myself. The way I got here was by being who I am and there’s no reason to fix anything if it ain’t broke.

The G-League is interesting because it’s a transient space, everyone is trying to get out. How do you balance your desires to stand out as an individual player while also thriving as a team?

I don’t play to lose. So wherever I am I’m always giving it my all. Everybody here is trying to get out, and if we play our best individually and win as a team, that’s gonna happen. This whole thing has been a journey for everyone on this team. We’ve still got a long ride to go and I feel it’s gonna be good for us.

Horton-Tucker going for a layup on Wednesday night against the Utah Stars. (Nate Schwartz/MEDILL)

Horton-Tucker caught a plane early Thursday morning to Chicago where he plans to rest up and enjoy the All-Star break among friends and family.

This transcript has been modified for brevity and clarity.

Photo at top: Horton-Tucker smiling after the Lakers seal their victory on Wednesday night. (Nate Schwartz/MEDILL)