From New Heights

by Andrew Force | January 29th, 2008

This season in college basketball, 3-pointers are being released from extraordinary heights.

No, guards are not jumping higher. Taller players are becoming arc-roamers. Five of the 18 most accurate long-range shooters in the land are 6’7” or taller.

For the modern prototype, look no further than Kevin Durant. The 6’9” Durant certainly did not begin the trend, but the former Texas Longhorn star perfected it. And his success will unquestionably lead to the growth of more tall shooters.

Call it “The Kevolution.” Big players long have yearned to drift outside where sweaty behemoths are not leaning on you. The lack of physicality has the understandable allure. Before coaches would knock some sense into the young, dramatically taller players. While much of rebounding success is will-driven, being close to the ball helps. In a game where height matters so much, standing outside made little sense.

Who better to slap common sense aside than kids? The youth of America and more recently Europe started to win the metaphorical arm wrestling match. Once Demarr Johnson, Rashard Lewis, Dirk Nowitzki honed the shooting skill, coaches wisely relented on offensive placement. I’ll let you play on the perimeter on offense, but you will guard the post and like it. That could mean defending a power forward or playing the base of the 2-3 zone depending on the team’s defensive approach.

Illinois State’s surprisingly hot start can partially be attributed to the deadly accurate Levi Dyer. His skill set will never be confused for a Kevin Durant, aside from his shooting which he employs routinely. Dyer picks a spot on the three-point line, generally in the corner, and lays low. Laying low would seem to be impossible for a 6’11” giant. Humans this big do not just blend in.

Dyer is often unguarded or under-guarded because Osiris Eldridge, Boo Richardson, and Dom Johnson are penetrating guards who must be taken seriously. As soon as any of these Redbirds gets half a step beyond his defender, collapsing defenses make Dyer an attractive target.

The giant-killer Butler Bulldogs boast their very own giant shooting star. Call him Pete. Not the most menacing name, but Mr. Campbell’s jumper goes down the right pipe more often than Campbell’s Soup. Last season the forward buried 52% of his three-point attempts.

For Butler, a successful but predictably undersized team, Campbell plays the post on defense. Truthfully, he is a forward. From Muncie, Indiana he landed at Butler in the first place for his marginal mobility. Fortunately for him, A.J. Graves does enough moving around for the two of them. The unselfish, supremely driven point guard of the Bulldogs, Graves flies around screens, darts to the paint and still manages to find the open man on either wing.

Campbell often is that man, simply by beginning the possession hovering around the arc. He is there with a purpose, of course. The forward sets screens for everybody. All guards, another forward, the ref. Anyone that needs to be freed of his man runs around Big Pete.

Instead of diving to the rim like most bigs, Pete flares out to the wing. The movement is very subtle and unassuming. Because the ball handler typically comes flying around the pick, he draws the majority of the attention.

Against Cleveland State, Campbell set three successive screens, drifted into obscurity and then drained a 25-foot triple. After Pete’s 3-for-3 first half effort, he decimated the CSU lead with back-to-back 3’s less than a minute apart. Even when a horrifically slow pass to PC allowed Campbell’s defender to get right up on him, he let fly with a more majestic arch than McDonald’s. All good.

Potential Big East Freshman of the Year Donte Greene kept a severely depleted Syracuse squad in the game at top ten Georgetown. The 6’9” frosh was shoving countless attempts at the hoop to no avail. To his credit he kept trying and eventually found the touch. Deep into the contest, Greene nailed critical triples. The Hoyas and their faithful were on the brink and barely managed to get the win in overtime.

The Kevolution has even reached the obnoxiously cold North Central United States.

A senior out of the state of Minnesota, Marquette forward Dan Fitzgerald developed a counterintuitive style. Though his production has dipped of late, Fitzgerald is a reliable three-point threat. His 6’9” frame in no way relegates him to the low blocks. Clearly a player more comfortable around the perimeter, Fitzgerald has shot 45 times, 41 of those from land of plenty.

The seemingly irresistible urge to leave the rough and tumble painted area continues. Bigger kids will drift outside more and more often. The only way they will be able to stay out there is if they hone their shooting touch.

Regardless of the scouting report, it is just plain difficult to take a 6’10 man seriously when he is 20 feet from the cylinder. That defensive instinct to relax allows for at least one wide-open look in the early going.

Sports invite imitators. Successful forward flingers encourage the trend and disarm coaches wrath when the next great tall shooter emerges.

In 1861 American abolitionist Wendell Phillips said, “Revolutions never go backwards.” Welcome to a new one: The Kevolution.

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