Calipari, UK players preview second-round game against Wofford
In Saturday’s round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky faces the Division I record holder for career three-pointers. UK’s defensive plan? Make Fletcher Magee and his teammates two-point shooters.
“They’re known for three-point shooting,” associate coach Kenny Payne said of Wofford, which ranks sixth nationally in three-point quantity (11.0 baskets per game) and second in quality (41.6 percent accuracy). “And our job is to make it a tough two-game for them. To get them off the three-point line and make them beat us shooting twos.”
Job One will be containing Magee, a 6-foot-4 senior guard. His seven three-point baskets in Thursday’s first-round victory over Seton Hall increased his career total to 509 and surpassed the previous record of 504 set by Travis Bader of Oakland.
Magee needs five more three-point baskets to break the single-season record of 162 set by Stephen Curry for Davidson in 2008-09.
Curry’s name came up in Wofford’s postgame news conference Thursday night. Being linked to the Golden State Warriors’ superstar guard was not anything new for Magee.
“Yeah, I know that Steph has done way more great things than I have, and was a better player,” he said. “But it’s definitely high praise. But I don’t want to get too caught up into the comparisons and all that kind of stuff.”
It’s not only that Magee makes threes, it’s how he makes them that grabs the attention of opponents. He’s unpredictable bordering on revolutionary. He can make face the basket and square your shoulders seemed outdated.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said UK’s Tyler Herro, who has classic shooting form. “He’s a great shooter, really.”
Said Payne of Magee: “He squares up in the air as he shoots it. That’s very (unusual).”
Teammate Storm Murphy recalled a shot against Mercer in which Magee was seemingly “almost fully horizontal.”
Magee said his unusual shooting style is not a product of improvisation. It was another tool he added to his shooting repertoire.
“I feel my set shot or my open jump shot is still pretty normal looking,” he said. “Once I got that, I tried to learn to shoot off balance. Then it’s a progression. You can’t just come into it and start jacking off-balanced shots.”
Like Herro, Magee has gained a reputation as a tireless worker and someone who spends extra time in the gym.
After Thursday’s victory over Seton Hall, Wofford Coach Mike Young put it this way. “If I had a nickel for every time I had a high school coach tell me kids will be the hardest worker you’ve ever had, I’d have some money. . . . ,” he said. “He is the hardest worker I’ve ever been around. To the point, I thought he was hurting himself. ‘You need to take a break, all right? Relax. . . .
“He’s an animal, and in the best way.”
If he has a poor shooting game, Magee said he might go to the gym and get up extra shots until one or two in the morning. When asked if he was alone in the gym during these early-morning workouts, he smiled and said, “Normally, I’ll do it by myself. I won’t let a manager stay out too late.”
Mike Bianchi, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel wrote about Magee’s work ethic this month. He told a story about wanting to get in extra shooting one late night on the court outside his home. But he did not want to wake his parents. So Magee put pillows under the basket to muffle the sound of the ball coming off the basket.
Magee, who is a sociology major, grew up in Orlando. Florida was his dream school.
“They came to a lot of my AAU games,” he said of the Florida coaches. “I had a lot of great players on my team, so they showed a little bit of interest. But they didn’t offer.”
Payne said he was unaware of Magee as a high school prospect.
When asked what motivated him to put in extra work, Magee said he wanted to get the most out of his talent. Then he added, “When you have big dreams, you have to work hard to get there. Your work ethic has to match your goals.”
Magee, who averages 20.5 points, has not shot well against higher-level competition this season. In games against opponents that also played Kentucky (South Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi State and North Carolina), he made 18 of 65 shots (nine of 46 from three-point range). He said he got overly excited about playing UNC (7-for-23 shooting). He also credited the opponents’ good defense.
Wofford (30-4) is not a one-man team. Forward Cam Jackson (14.6 ppg) and guard Nathan Hoover (13.0 ppg) average double-figure points.
But Magee’s shooting ignites the Terriers.
“A ton,” Murphy said. “Our momentum picks up and everybody gets excited.”
No. 2 seed Kentucky vs. No. 7 seed Wofford
What: NCAA Tournament MIdwest Regional round-of-32 game
Where: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
When: About 2:40 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: Kentucky 28-6, Wofford 30-4
Series: First meeting