UK Men's Basketball

Believe it or not, Briscoe can be a ‘Hield’ of a shooter

Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) shot free throws as the Cats practiced for their NCAA opener against Stony Brook. Briscoe didn’t shoot well from behind the three-point arc or from the free-throw line last season.
Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) shot free throws as the Cats practiced for their NCAA opener against Stony Brook. Briscoe didn’t shoot well from behind the three-point arc or from the free-throw line last season. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Here’s a bit of conjecture that might come as a surprise: Maybe Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe can be like Buddy Hield.

Chad Ford, ESPN’s analyst of NBA drafts, mentioned the Oklahoma star while pointing out how Briscoe needs to improve as a shooter.

Ford saw a ceiling on how much Briscoe can get better. “I don’t think we’re going to see Briscoe turn into Buddy Hield next year,” he said.

But, believe it or not, Briscoe and Hield shot with similar accuracy as freshmen.

Briscoe made 13.5 percent of his three-point attempts last season (five of 37). As a freshman in 2012-13, Hield made only 23.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc (19 of 80).

During his four-year college career, Hield nearly doubled his three-point shooting accuracy. He made 45.7 percent of his shots from three-point distance this past season (147 of 322). That made him the sixth-best three-point shooter in the nation.

To put Hield’s 147 threes in perspective, the Kentucky record for a season is 117, by Jodie Meeks in 2008-09. Jamal Murray made the second-most in UK history, 113, this past season. (Stephen Curry holds the NCAA record for threes in a season. He made 162 for Davidson in 2007-08.)

Of Hield’s startling improvement, Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger said, “It’s rare, for sure.”

There was no magic pill or formula that explains Hield’s improvement. How he got better — and became widely projected as a lottery pick in the June 23 NBA Draft — seems like an example any player, including Briscoe, should follow.

“It happened because Buddy was a guy who really focused on areas he needed to improve on,” Kruger said. “Then he worked at it.

“That combination is rare where a guy goes to the gym on his own and focuses on areas of deficiency. Usually they go to the gym to work on things they’re comfortable doing, especially when they’re by themselves.”

Hield worked out twice each day before practice. Then, of course, he practiced with the team.

“It was not just going to the gym and saying you’ve been there,” Kruger said of the pre-practice workouts. “Buddy worked at it.”

Hield’s shooting motion had a flaw. His release point was too low, Kruger said. Plus, Hield could not consistently repeat the same shooting motion.

As odd as it might seem now, opposing defenses invited Hield to shoot. Briscoe, an effective driver, got similar attention from defenses this past season.

“That motivated Buddy,” Kruger said. “Buddy is very competitive. He knew how they were playing him. That motivated him to spend more time shooting the ball so he could keep them more honest defensively.”

No one questions Briscoe’s competitiveness. UK built its perimeter defense on a foundation of Briscoe and Tyler Ulis.

Having decided not to stay in this year’s NBA Draft, Briscoe should have two individual goals next season, Ford said. These goals can seem at cross purposes: improve as a shooter and initiate more of the offense as a pass-first point guard.

“Lack of shooting becomes more glaring when you’re going to become a shooting guard in the NBA,” the ESPN draft analyst said. “There’s just not a lot of successful ‘two-guards’ in the NBA that can’t shoot the basketball.

“The NBA definitely has some point guards who can’t (shoot well). They bring playmaking and other things to the table that make up for that.”

Curiously, Briscoe was not a poor shooter in high school. Yet, he made only 46 percent of his free throws (57 of 124) as a UK freshman.

“So much of that is confidence,” Kruger said of shooting. “If you get going down the wrong direction and start doubting yourself, (that’s a problem). In general, confidence and shooting are so closely tied together.”

Imperfect attendance

Kentucky lists Rupp Arena’s capacity at 23,000. Last week Kentucky trumpeted how it led the nation this past season with an average home attendance of 23,361.

Huh?

Illogical as it seems, UK’s over-the-top average — yes, average — can make sense. That’s because announced attendance is one of the growing number of places where marketing and athletics meet.

Accuracy, schmaccuracy. The important thing is what sells.

Two years ago, UK Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy called attendance figures “kind of an imperfect science.”

The NCAA takes a laissez-faire attitude. Each school can count attendance however it chooses. Tickets sold or given away? Fine. Turnstile count? OK. Reading entrails of a chicken? That works.

There’s no common standard. It’s like one school measures in inches and another in centimeters. So any attendance ranking is not to be taken too seriously.

Last week Peevy said that UK’s “official announced attendance” includes a count of tickets sold or given away to students and non-students, plus passes to media, plus people with jobs that require their presence: ushers, UK staffers and security officers. Pretty much anyone who happens to be in Rupp Arena counts in the estimate.

In response to an open records request, Rupp Arena provided the turnstile count for Kentucky’s games this past season. The average number of ticket holders and media counted at UK’s home games was 18,939. That means there was about a 24-percent markup. In 10 of UK’s 17 games in Rupp Arena, the count was less than 20,000.

On the other hand, there’s this: In its news release touting the nation’s highest average home attendance, Kentucky said it had an average in excess of 23,000 in six of John Calipari’s seven seasons as coach.

Orange alert

Syracuse broke UK’s near monopoly on largest average home attendance in 2014. With home games in a football stadium (retractable roof over Commonwealth Stadium?), the Orange led the nation in 2013-14 and 2014-15. UK had been No. 1 eight straight seasons, and 17 of the last 18.

Then in 2015-2016, Syracuse’s average home attendance was 21,592. That was down from 23,854 the previous season.

Mike Waters, who covers the Orange for the Syracuse Post Standard, cited several factors contributing to the decrease. Not as many big weekend games, which can draw crowds of more than 30,000.

Also, Syracuse played North Carolina when the students were on break. So a crowd of 30,000 was down to about 26,000.

Plus, no Atlantic Coast Conference home games against Duke, Louisville or Virginia.

Next season, Syracuse will play non-conference home games against former Big East rivals Georgetown and St. John’s. There will also be home games with Duke, Louisville and Virginia.

“If the ACC gives Syracuse more Saturday home games, I would expect Syracuse to return to No. 1 in 2017,” Waters wrote in an email.

NBA Draft Gathering

For those who think Kentucky fans are everywhere, there is this: a UK Club in Greenville, S.C.

The club will meet June 23 in what it’s calling the NBA Draft Gathering. Chris Nordmeyer said he expected as many as 40 people to watch the draft together at The Irish Pub (214 North Pleasantburg Dr.).

The club regularly meets to watch UK football games (about 20 attend) and basketball games (as many as 75 attend).

The Pub features two outdoor volleyball courts and a bring-your-own-meat grill. UK fans are asked to bring hot dogs and a side dish.

A native of Louisville, Nordmeyer is a 1996 graduate of UK’s School of Architecture.

When asked if a UK fan feels lonely in Greenville, S.C., he said, “No. No. It’s always good to wear Kentucky blue around here in a sea of orange.”

Why?

Why did John Calipari suggest the SEC move its tournament to November?

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon suggested that the motive was altruism. The Kentucky coach wanted to find a way to give lesser light SEC programs much-needed attention.

On another ESPN show, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times suggested that Calipari wanted to avenge a perceived wrong. He was still smarting about Kentucky being a No. 4 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament and Texas A&M a No. 3 seed even though UK beat the Aggies in the SEC Tournament championship game.

“He’s just still whining about last year,” Plaschke said. “Get over it.”

Of course, as several former Selection Committee members have said, if the SEC moves its tournament championship game to Saturday, the committee would have time to fully weigh the result during the seeding-and-bracketing process.

The SEC seems headed in that direction.

But that doesn’t seem to be what Calipari wants. He has made no secret of his dislike for the SEC Tournament. For UK, it only gets in the way of preparation for the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari even refused to embrace the league tournament in 2013 when it gave Kentucky — shell-shocked by Nerlens Noel’s knee injury — a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

But what about all those other SEC programs who need the chance provided by the SEC Tournament? Mike Tranghese, the consultant hired to help bolster the profile of SEC basketball, suggested that what’s-in-it-for-me expediency is the guiding principle. “It all depends on who you are,” he said of opinion about the SEC Tournament.

Here’s a guess as to why Calipari suggested moving the SEC Tournament to November: If he can’t kill it, moving it out of the way and making it irrelevant is the next best thing.

Tenors: past and future

Analyst Jerry Meyer of the 247 Sports recruiting service compared UK’s Three Tenors of 2015-16 (Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe) with the likely reconfigured Trio for next season (Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Briscoe).

“The obvious difference is you’re just bigger at the point guard position,” Meyer said. “To me, that’s the main difference.” Ulis is 5-9, Fox 6-3.

Then Meyer continued. “Murray and Ulis are probably a little more reliable shooters than these other two (Fox and Monk),” he said. “But I think the combination of Fox and Monk can be in some ways even more explosive.”

Happy birthday

To Dick Vitale. The ebullient one turned 77 Thursday, the day ESPN extended his contract through 2019. . . . To LaVon Williams. He turned 58 on Friday. . . . To Chuck Hayes. He turned 33 on Saturday. . . . To former Vandy and South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler. He turns 68 on Sunday. . . . To Gimel Martinez. He turns 45 on Tuesday.

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