- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

J.J. Redick knows he is unlike most college basketball players. While many of his colleagues take their cues from the dunk masters on “SportsCenter,” the Duke star draws inspiration from a different, well, medium.

The source? Jimmy Chitwood. The fictional Jimmy Chitwood. That’s right: the overachiever and pure shooter who led Hickory, a small Indiana high school, to a state title in the classic basketball movie “Hoosiers.”

“If you watch highlights, it’s always LeBron James or Kobe [Bryant] dunking on somebody,” said Redick, a sophomore on the second-ranked Blue Devils. “Guys want to be like that. But to me there is something about the jump shot. I always played guard growing up. I was always a good shooter. I fell in love with the 3-pointer.”

That kind of long-distance romance is rare these days.

College 3-point shooting has dropped significantly since the 19-foot, 9-inch arc was implemented for the 1986-87 season. Division I teams made 38.4 percent that season but only 34.8 percent last season. The low was 34.1 percent in 1996-97, and that number could get lower next season, when the NCAA will push the arc out nine more inches to the international standard.

The shooting woes may have something to do with better defense. But many experts blame a lack of fundamentals, with few players putting in the time to learn and practice jump shooting. That makes Redick and other high profile sharpshooters, such as Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara and Oregon’s James Davis, stand out in an era of slams and jams.

“Too many guys have missed building blocks in putting their game together,” CBS commentator Billy Packer said. “The promotion of the game at its highest level has done a disservice to the game with its promotion of dunks and showmanship. Unfortunately, the direction of the NBA and its marketing has hurt the game, including outside shooting. What we are seeing is not healthy.”

Redick, who made 39.9 percent of his 3s last season as a freshman, points back to his eighth-grade year in Roanoke, Va., as the key one in the development of his shooting prowess. He broke his wrist that season and had to learn to shoot one-handed and correct his shooting stance.

Now, he regularly sinks zone-busting shots from 30 feet.

“He just has great fundamentals in his shooting technique,” said Packer, who lists former St. John’s star Chris Mullin and ex-UCLA standout Tracy Murray as the best college shooters he has seen. “I think Redick is as fine a pure shooter with range and quickness and the ability to get off a shot as anyone I have seen in a long time.”

Maybe shooting ability is in reverse proportion to athleticism. The first time a teenager dunks seems to be the last time he is serious about his outside shooting. Former Maryland All-American and current Washington Wizards guard Juan Dixon was never much of a leaper growing up, but he always could shoot.

“Shooting back in the day was a lot better,” said Dixon, who made 39.7 percent of his 3s during his college career. “Guys today are more athletic. They don’t spend as much time shooting the ball. A lot of guys really want to know how to dunk the ball. So they work on dunking the ball a lot. When I was a kid, I would just work on shooting, shooting, shooting …”

The shooter has become a rare commodity in a time of athletes who are bigger, stronger and faster but not necessarily as well schooled fundamentally.

“Shooting is not something that is God-given,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It’s something you work on from an early age — to understand the basic fundamentals of shooting: keep your eyes on the rim, that you follow through, that you’re fingers are right. … I guess guys who are great athletes don’t work on their shots because they can get to the rim and do other things.”

Maryland coach Gary Williams agrees with Jordan but takes it one step further. Williams says players work more on their individual moves and neglect chances to develop passing and shooting skills during game conditions.

“If you’re really a good defensive player, you can take a great 3-point shooter out,” Williams said. “And coaches are better at teaching team defense. The fact that there aren’t as many good all-around players is true. The idea that there are no good shooters in college basketball anymore, I don’t think it’s true.”

Defenses can play a box-and-one or double team to try to limit a top shooter. One player who will get more defensive attention this season is McNamara, who made six of eight 3-pointers in the first half of the national championship game last season when the Orangemen beat Kansas.

McNamara got open looks and buried 25-footers when the defense focused on Carmelo Anthony. With Anthony now in the NBA, McNamara, who made 35.7 percent of his 3s last season, will be a marked marksman.

“In the title game, he didn’t shoot a single free throw because he didn’t know how to get the ball and get fouled,” said Packer, who called the title game. “McNamara was dependent on Carmelo’s physical abilities and passing ability. Can he be effective without Carmelo there? It will be interesting.”

Meanwhile, Redick has the team and personal tools to become the college game’s marquee shooter. He is joined on the perimeter by outside threats Chris Duhon and Daniel Ewing. Plus, Redick — who shot 111 free throws last season — can find other ways to score when he’s closely guarded, such as taking defenders off the dribble.

“For a 6-4 white guy, there are few dunks I can’t do,” said Redick, a 91.9 percent free throw shooter. “But there is nothing like the 3-point shot. It’s just second nature to me now. It’s a momentum shot worth more than two points. It can really change the direction of the game.”

Yes, acrobatic slams will continue to make the highlights, but that only makes Redick and other disciples of Jimmy Chitwood more rare and valuable.

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