Saturday, November 22, 2008

The lost art of the mid-range jump shot

The Tar Heels handled UCSB pretty well last night, as they were expected to, but they didn't look great. Tyler Hansbrough is back, he played a full game, approaching his old form, but it looks like the conditioning is not quite there. Now the Heels are on their way to Maui for the Maui Invitational, which is somewhat interesting for me because they could end up playing Texas, my alma mater. In fact, that's the most likely outcome.

I have only a moment's worth of conflict over that, I was never much of a Texas sports fan while I was there. I worked for the Athletic Dept as a tutor while I was in school, so I saw Div 1 college sports Texas-style from the inside, seeing what they players go through (for one thing, they have practically no time to study) and how little they get (I used to take players out for pizza on Sunday on my dime because otherwise they'd be eating PB&J as the athletic cafeteria was closed on Sunday nights and most of them had no money) in spite of the fact that they generate millions for the school.

As an aside, we should consider athletic scholarships a work-study program and pay them the same money schools pay students to work in the library or whatever on their work-study programs. They earn it.

Anyway, all that left me with a less-than-sweet taste in my mouth for UT Athletics. I've gotten over it, and I know things are probably not much different at UNC, but I've come to be a UNC fan. I'm probably the most devoted UNC fan who has never stepped foot in the state of North Carolina.

In short, I became a UNC fan in 1983, while a student at UT, when I took a US Civil Rights History course which in part examined the role of college sports in the US civil rights movement. Dean Smith, the long-time (and then) coach of the UNC basketball team was a courageous leader in integrating college sports. I was interested in watching a few games once I learned this, and if you know your BBall history you know UNC had a guy named Michael Jordan playing for them back then. The rest, as they say, is history. These days, it doesn't hurt that the most significant other in my life is a UNC Alum and a particularly rabid BBall fan.

Anyway, this year they moved the 3-point line back a foot to 20' 9", still three feet short of the NBA line. People who follow the game like I do are watching to see what that does to the game. I watched the Tar Heels brick a bunch of threes last night, but frankly they were doing that back when it was at 19' 9".

What it is likely to do is re-introduce the mid-range jumper back into offensive strategies. There are a number of players for whom the foot makes a difference, not your great perimeter shooters, but guys who would launch one from out there when they had a good look because they could hit about one in three of them.

The mid-range jumper, a two-point shot taken from 10-18 feet, is a powerful weapon for the same reason an option play is useful in college football. It gives you another choice when you try to drive the lane and find some obstacle to getting in for your lay-up. You set up for the mid-range jumper the same way you begin a drive in for a lay-up, leaning in with one shoulder and forcing the defender to make a choice about to which side you are going to turn and break.

If the defender guesses correctly, cutting off your lane, his momentum is moving towards the basket and you can plant a foot and get a clean look for the jump shot. My theory is that the line moving back a foot is going to open that area of the court up a bit. This was Jordan's shot, by the way, it was the one he used to win the 1982 Tourney, and it can be devastatingly effective not only at scoring, but at making defenders afraid to commit to cutting off a lane, thus opening them up for drives.

It will be nice to see it come back, if it does. It is too early to tell yet. You can't really tell what is going on with a college basketball team in a particular year until they've played about ten games, right now everyone is at three or four. SImilarly, it's hard to tell what a minor change like this will do until about the same point in the season.

But, those jumpers are graceful sights to behold when done by the true artists, by people like Stephen Curry at Davidson. It'll be fun to watch.

Oh, and for Em, Duke handed Michigan their ass last night. It wasn't really close. Your boys are for real this year.

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