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Extra shooting work paying off for Truck

MORGANTOWN - It was hard to read the Big East memo sent out on Monday about Truck Bryant being named the league's player of the week and not get a bit of a chuckle out of it.

Oh, it's not that I found Bryant winning the award for the first time in his career all that funny. I mean, the guy did score 24 and a career-high 27 points last week against two high majors, Kansas State and Miami. He made a personal-best five 3-pointers against Miami and it took him only seven attempts. The guy played 50 minutes against K-State and turned the ball over just once. And he's even seemed to turn his free-throw shooting around, making 13-of-16.

No, what I had to snicker over a bit was the last line of the memo from the Big East, which pointed out that after those two games Bryant had raised his average to an even 17 points per game. Keep that number in mind.

When I saw it, I immediately flashed back to an October conversation with the senior guard from Brooklyn, one in which he was talking about having more of a green light to shoot this season with freshmen Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne around to occupy the point guard spot.

Bryant compared it to the situation of his old AAU teammate, Kemba Walker, at Connecticut last year.

"[Having a green light to shoot] is a lot easier. Look at Kemba's situation. He has a green light and he's throwing the ball off the backboard and getting layups,'' Bryant said. "But [coach Bob Huggins] always gave me the green light anyway. Some things were limited, but anything you can do to make a good play, he doesn't care what it is.''

As I pointed out back then, chances are Huggins would not see throwing the ball off the backboard and laying in the ricochet as a good play. Then again, if Bryant becomes the shooting guard that he and Huggins apparently envision him being, well, why not?

"It depends on what I'm averaging,'' Bryant laughed when asked in October if that might be part of his repertoire. "[If I'm averaging] 17, yeah, the ball's going off the backboard.''

Uh-oh.

All right, so perhaps Bryant has undergone a change of heart since the preseason. Maybe shooting 23 percent on his 3-pointers prior to the Miami game on Saturday was sobering. Perhaps the 23 turnovers against 26 assists (not a great ratio) has been a wake-up call.

It seems as if something has sparked Bryant of late because he's certainly taking his shooting more seriously - and not the H-O-R-S-E shots that would include bouncing the ball off the backboard.

There have been times during Bryant's four years here when if you stuck around after a West Virginia game you might very well see him taking shot after shot after shot. More recently, though, you'd have to show up earlier.

In Wichita last week, he was on the floor at the Intrust Bank Center two hours before tipoff, working on his shot with assistant coach Jerrod Calhoun as his rebounder. Ditto Saturday's home game with Miami.

If the extra work is wearing on Bryant, you wouldn't know it by his minutes played - 89 of a possible 90 in those two games (the 85-80 win over Kansas State went two overtimes). And the end result was the highest-scoring two-game stretch of his career.

"It worked before the [Kansas State] game, so why not keep doing it?'' Bryant said. "Me and Coach Calhoun come in about 45 minutes before we're supposed to be out there and it gets me in the groove to where I start making some shots.''

Bryant has no idea how many shots he manages to get up in his new pregame ritual, but he says he probably makes about 100. Someone joked to him that, well, that probably means he's putting up about 1,000.

To his credit, Bryant was able to laugh at the notion and come back quickly. "No,'' he said, "I'd say 120.''

If there was a wake-up call as far as Bryant's shooting was concerned, it came the game before he began his new pregame ritual. And it wasn't just Bryant. In a loss at Mississippi State, Bryant and teammate Kevin Jones - by far the most experienced players on the team - were a combined 9-for-31 from the field and 1-for-12 on 3-pointers.

"We didn't even have to have the conversation. Coach [Huggins] took care of that himself,'' Bryant said. "He said, 'We aren't going to win with you guys missing 20 shots.' It's just not going to happen.''

There are going to be games, of course, when Bryant doesn't make five 3-pointers and shoot the lights out. As anyone who follows this team - and Bryant - knows, he will still on occasion try to make plays when none are there to be made. He will get on a run and eventually take some shots that probably don't need to be taken, just to try and make something happen.

But he will also do what he's always done, which is work his tail off. And lately that means doing it when many of his teammates are just arriving to get taped.

"It's been paying off and it's something I'm going to stick with,'' Bryant said.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or   dphickman1@aol.com.

 


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