Of the myriad offensive improvements already spilling off the Winthrop men’s basketball stat sheet, one has nothing to do with the Eagles’ newly increased speed of play, or the varied cache of scoring weapons added to the roster during the offseason. Joab Jerome’s early season shooting success has to do with one thing only: repetition.
Jerome has hit 8 of 11 3-pointers through four games this season. Entering his senior season, the Georgia native had made just 11 triples in three years, with a career-high last season of seven. Jerome knocked down 4 of 5 from 3-point range in Tuesday’s win over East Tennessee State, and was 7 of 8 from the field overall in his best shooting performance yet.
“He’s shooting it with confidence, and that confidence comes from those thousands of shots behind the scenes over the last seven, eight months,” said Pat Kelsey, coach at Winthrop.
Thursday after practice, Jerome was surprised to hear how well he’s been shooting.
“Shewww,” he whispered.
Asked to describe his jump shot, Jerome grinned, and groaned slightly.
“It’s not normal looking,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t have that much lift, I’m not really the most athletic. But I’ve worked on that too because I’ve heard over the years that my shot’s been flat. I’m just trying to shoot up and get as much air on it as possible, and it’s been falling, so I’m just gonna keep it up.”
No one really taught him how to shoot, which shows. So hard work has been required to turn Jerome into an efficient shooter. Kelsey used a line from his mentor, late Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser, to describe Jerome. Anyone who knows Kelsey realizes a “Prosserism” is his highest form of compliment.
“Joey Jerome is the prototypical 6 to 3 guy. We don’t practice at 3 o’clock, but most teams do. (Prosser) said there’s 3 to 6 guys, and 6 to 3 guys. There’s the ones that show up to practice and work hard, but then they’re done. Joey is a craftsman, he works on his trade. His improved shooting numbers are a tribute to thousands and thousands of shots that he put in over the summer.”
Last season, Jerome was Winthrop’s best offensive option, but even his skill set, like the team’s as a whole, was limited. One of the best players in the league at driving to the rim, opponents knew to back off of the versatile 6-foot-5 forward. His shot just wasn’t consistent enough to be considered a threat. Making shots this season turns Jerome into an entirely more difficult proposition.
“Now it keeps the defense honest,” said Jerome, who leads the Eagles in scoring at 14.8 per game. “Now if the defense sags I can shoot it with confidence and know that it’s gonna go in. I always have the ability to drive.”
Everyone in the Winthrop program knew that the team’s unquestioned senior leader needed to improve that one aspect. No one knew it better than Jerome, who is called “Joey” by everyone in the program. To see the fruits of his efforts pay off has been a boon to the Eagles during their positive 3-1 start to the season.
“It’s just a tribute to who he is as a player, and his work ethic,” said Kelsey. “I love coaching guys like Joey Jerome.”
Winthrop’s coach went on to explain that on his coaching staff’s scouting reports there are “red dot guys” and “green dot guys.” Double red dot guys are drivers and slashers that are insatiable in getting to the rim. Double green dot guys are shooters from range that wouldn’t drive even if a defender was standing behind them. Kelsey thinks Jerome’s improvement will earn him red and green dots from opposing teams this year, designations generally reserved for the opposing team’s most dangerous offensive players.
“He’s not as much of a one-trick pony,” Kelsey said. “It makes him more of a problem.”
Jerome’s improvement shooting from range is indicative of a team-wide uptick in shooting efficacy. The Eagles are averaging 80.5 points per contest, almost a 20-point per game improvement on last season, and are 18th in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (44 percent), according to KenPom.com. That’s an evident jump from last season’s 31 percent, and while the sample-size is small, there is reason to believe the Eagles will continue to shoot in the upper 30’s.
Kelsey has a constant reminder of the effect of repetition on shooting performance. His brother-in-law and best friend, Paul Cluxton, holds the NCAA Division II record for free-throw shooting percentage in a season. Cluxton set the record at Northern Kentucky in 1997, hitting all 94 of his foul shot attempts that season. 100 percent. It’s a record that will never be topped.
“There’s no secret sauce to becoming a good shooter,” said Kelsey. “It’s reps.”
Jerome internalized that message this past offseason. Whether it was individual player development sessions at the West Center, which are limited by NCAA regulations, or on his own with cousins in Marietta, Ga., Jerome was getting up shots. Lots of shots.
“It’s kind of the same thing I did last year,” Jerome said. “It’s just more of a confidence. When you see the ball go in, you just want to shoot some more.”
Outside at the park, at his alma mater Wheeler High School, or at the Marietta branch of L.A. Gym, Jerome and his cousins, who chased rebounds for him, were sweating through a deep South summer. Kelsey said that because Jerome is viewed as a leader in the locker room, his efforts have been contagious.
“Our team takes on that personality, because our leader is that way,” he said.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T