Keep Shooting January 23, 2013
In the second half of the Minnesota game – I want to say we were down by 2 – Brandon kicked it to an open DJ Richardson behind the three point line. He let it fly… and it rattled out. So close to going down and giving us the lead.
The rebound went out of bound off us, and the camera zoomed in on John Groce. It was easy to read his lips:
“DJ! Keep shooting.”
Nobody wants Tyler Griffey to make a three more than me. OK, maybe his parents, but I’m third. Wait, my wife used to work with his Aunt, and she was a huge Tyler supporter, so fourth. OK, fine, other family members. And his girlfriend. But I’m at worst 9th on the “really want Tyler Griffey to knock down a three and break this streak” list.
In the second half tonight, with about four minutes left, John Groce called a timeout with maybe 14 seconds on the shot clock. I think the main reason was to settle the team down – protect the ball, be smart on defense, this game is ours. But he did design a play for that 14 second shot clock: get Tyler Griffey open for a three. The kid had missed 16 straight, but John Groce designed a play for him to get an open three.
The message: keep shooting. When you have an open shot, take it. Be aggressive.
Would Groce have designed that play if it was a four point game? Of course not. You put the ball in the hands of your best scorers at that point, and Griffey clearly hasn’t been our best scorer in the past month. But I think I see the method to John Groce’s “keep shooting” madness: get this team to be aggressive in everything they do. Change last years’ tentative mindest to aggression.
It’s no secret that the biggest struggle for this senior class has been tentative basketball. Dribbling around until there’s 4 seconds on the shot clock, rebounding, lazy passes, defensive lapses – all part of our 6-12 finish in the Big Ten last year. John Groce set out to flip that, and the biggest change he’s made, in my opinion, is to change last year’s Weber “no” when DJ rose to shoot to this year’s “DJ! Keep shooting.”
When I got the chance to interview Coach Groce this past summer, I asked him about a quote where he said he never got upset at DJ Cooper (at Ohio) when he took a bad shot. His answer was that he always wanted DJ in attack mode. He’d put up with the 10-20% dumb plays to get the 80-90% attack plays.
Other quotes I’ve read talked about how players being aggressive on the offensive end changes their entire game. They’re more aggressive on defense. They chase more rebounds. They fight through screens. Get players into a battle-ready mentality by pushing them to stay aggressive on the offensive end.
Is there a flipside to all of this, where it seems ridiculous to tell Tyler Griffey to keep shooting after he’s missed this many shots in a row? Of course. There’s always a limit. But from what he’s said, I think John Groce believes that letting shooters shoot their way out of slumps helps their overall game. Tyler still hasn’t hit a three in Big Ten play – but he’s rebounding the ball better than I can remember. DJ was on fire tonight, but his defense was just as impressive.
Again, he isn’t telling DJ or Tyler or Brandon to take bad shots. He doesn’t want them shooting every time they touch the ball. But he wants them mentally prepared so that their ready to let it fly (or drive, or dish, or dunk) when they see an opportunity. To quote Groce from that interview last summer when talking about his aggression project at Ohio, DJ Cooper:
The worst thing you can do is handcuff him and get him overthinking things – where he’s in a mode where he’s reactionary instead of in attack mode.
Keep shooting. And driving. And rebounding. And slowly but surely, your entire game will come around. You’ll understand the mindset it takes to be successful in this rugged conference. You’ll no longer be known as a weak-willed team that just tried to run out the clock with the lead. Stay aggressive. Fight back when you’re punched in the mouth.
The results so far? Mixed. Punched in the mouth to at the beginning of the Gonzaga game and then a slow and steady fight back. Punched in the mouth at Wisconsin and then a complete meltdown. Taking it right to Ohio State in Assembly Hall. Rolling over and letting Northwestern walk all over us at Assembly Hall. We can’t seem to find consistent effort.
Just like last year. If there’s one phrase that describes our play last year, it’s folding when the heat was turned up. The Purdue game on New Years Eve. The game at Nebraska. The Iowa game in the Big Ten tournament. So many fans and media questioning our fight. Our weak-willed mentality.
I think that’s the number one thing John Groce has attempted to change about the culture in Champaign. To mixed results so far. But tonight, the player who has struggled with confidence and aggression put up 30 points. And when you think through our last 3-4 games, DJ might have played the best of anyone on this team. He’s aggressive on both ends of the court, and tonight, it paid off immensely.
Does that mean last year’s “when the going gets tough, we fold” is gone? No. We still lost to Purdue and Northwestern. We’ve still gone from top-10 to bubble in three short weeks. Northwestern was about the weakest effort we’ve seen in several years.
But tonight, we were aggressive (opening possession Sam McLaurin back-down dunk for the win), and we got after it on defense, and we fought through some screens, and we got our hands on some passes, and we pushed right back every time Nebraska made a run. Sure, it’s just Nebraska, but a 20 point road win in the Big Ten is still a good way to kill this slide.
We still have a long, long way to go. Play like we did tonight and, 30 points from DJ or no 30 points from DJ, we’re losing our next five games. We have to keep getting better. We have to keep pushing. We need more from Brandon and smarter decisions from Tracy and greater focus and drive from Myke Henry. There’s still a lot to work on.
But this team showed some spunk tonight. On the road. Sure, it’s just Nebraska, but both Wisconsin and Purdue struggled in Lincoln before eventually winning by six and nine. A 20 point win is a great way to start the road back. Next step: find some way to win two of the next five. And then close the season 5-2.
No problem, right?