Bryant Smiling Again
Yeah, Truck Bryant, the same guy who has been spraying shots all over the place for the last month and a half. His shot chart during that time was messier than a three-year-old’s coloring book. The junior guard says he hasn’t had a shooting slump this bad since he first took up the game. Before going off on Notre Dame, Truck’s shooting percentage was heading toward a Mendoza-line-like 30%.
In fact, if you take out his four games this year against Davidson (22 points), Miami (20), Marquette (25) and Notre Dame (24) Truck is averaging a very Mario Mendoza-like 7.9 points per game and shooting 27.5% (Yeah, I know Mendoza played baseball but you get the idea).
Bryant knows he’s a much, much better player than that and so did assistant coach Billy Hahn, who finally gave Truck a few words of encouragement after another clunker of a first half against the Irish.
“Coach Hahn talked to me at halftime and he told me I was going to start making shots and I started feeling more confident,” Bryant said. “Confidence is a big thing for me and I came out ready to play … like I should be playing.”
It makes you wonder why Hahn didn’t speak up, oh, about a month ago.
“Yeah, he should have told me this a couple of weeks ago and I probably would have been playing much better,” Bryant joked.
Truck can laugh about it now because he was the main reason why West Virginia knocked off eighth-ranked Notre Dame to give the Mountaineers yet another quality win to add to their post-season resume.
But just a few days ago Bryant wasn’t cracking many jokes after going 1 of 6 from the floor in a loss at Syracuse, or shooting 1 for 6 in a loss at Villanova or going 1 of 8 in a tight road defeat at Louisville or … well, you get the picture.
“I’ve been struggling and it’s been rough for me, but at the end of the day we got the win (Saturday) and that was the most important thing,” he said. “I’m back on track and I’m ready to start playing up to my potential.”
The weirdest part of Bryant’s struggles is that he was actually making his first shot in a lot of these games, but instead of getting on a roll, he was just rolling over. Naturally against Notre Dame Bryant’s first shot was a miss.
“I didn’t make my first shot so I guess that’s a good thing,” he said. “From now on I’m going to miss the first one.”
It’s at least something to consider, especially if Bryant is going to play the way he did against the Domers, still second in the Big East behind Pitt with losses to only Kentucky, Syracuse, Marquette and St. John’s before running into a truck on Saturday. Perhaps Bryant should just take a mulligan like the rest of us when we’re on the No. 1 tee and that first banana has them scrambling on the practice green two fairways over.
Bryant says his recent struggles haven’t been because of a lack of focus during games.
“There have just been a lot of things going on in my mind, my family, and just thinking about a lot and I need to just focus on basketball, my team and winning games,” he said.
When you watch Bryant in warm-ups or shooting by himself in the gym it seems like everything he puts up goes through the basket. During one stretch last Friday he made at least seven in a row from the corner, missed, and then made five more after that.
“That’s the hardest part, making some shots before practice when I’m warming up and (Saturday) they finally fell,” Bryant said.
Even tougher for top athletes is when they have done something so well for so long and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, it goes away. Ask Steve Blass why he quit throwing strikes or why Tiger Woods can’t win golf tournaments anymore. There are no easy answers. Eventually it wears on you, and the-usually-smiling-and-joking Bryant was certainly showing it.
“When you’re missing shots that’s all you’re thinking about, and if you’re going to keep shooting it then you’re going to keep missing them,” he explained. “I just tried not to think about it in the second half and listen to Coach Hahn. He told me I was going to make them and I made them. He said the same thing to me after the game.”
With Bryant shooting and scoring the way he did on Saturday, and Joe Mazzulla making his Evel Knievel-like drives to the basket, it makes you wonder how many more of these the Mountaineers have in them this year?
“If we’re shooting the ball like this - anything like it - and we would have won a lot more games and that’s something that has been missing from our offense,” Bryant said. “There have been times when we’ve struggled to get points and at other times it has been good. It’s been up and down just like everything else this season, so hopefully this is the win that will put us on track and help us win some more games.”
Bryant admitted after Saturday’s game that he was more relieved than overjoyed with the way he played.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief,” he said. “I haven’t been playing good at all and I haven’t been doing anything. I felt like I haven’t been helping my team in any type of way and I was just happy to come out here and make some shots and get this win in front of our crowd.”
Me being a third-rate sports psychologist and a once-bad shooter, I asked Truck if he watches the ball or the rim whenever he shoots the ball. I remembered once going to a basketball camp and Mr. Shooter himself, George Lehman, telling a bunch of us eighth-graders to always keep your eye on the rim and never look at the ball when it’s in the air (For you old-school campers he used to call it B-E-E-F: balance, eyes on target, elbow keeps the basketball straight and follow through).
Truck flashed a toothy smile, and answered the dumb question exactly the way he should have.
“I just want to see the ball go through the rim,” he said.
Amen to that, brother! And we’ll leave the advice to the old pros like Coach Hahn.
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