On the all-time list of people with magic broomsticks, you have:
A) The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
B) Quidditch players in the Harry Potter books.
C) UC assistant basketball coach Larry Davis.
OK, so maybe Larry's broomstick isn't magical, but it
has helped turn Bearcat guard JaQuon Parker from a guy who only made three more
3-point shots than you did last year
(he was 3-for-20), into a 58% shooter from beyond the arc this season (15-for-26).
Parker had a mechanical flaw where he twisted his feet in the middle of his shot, so Davis suggested that he practice shooting with a broomstick lying on the floor between his feet.
"At first I looked at him and said, 'Are you crazy?' But it's been good for me," Parker told me. "For the first five minutes I kept landing on it. I never fell down, but it was close. I stumbled a few times. He kept telling me that it would really help my shot. It worked."
"I was trying to find a way a long time ago to help guys that turned their feet when they shot the ball," Coach Davis told me. "Once you have everything lined up in a straight line to the basket it's easy. I decided to put a broomstick on the floor to force them to stay in a straight line with their feet. If you don't, you fall on the broom so that's how it started."
After averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds in 23 games last year, JaQuon is up to 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in 11 games this year. In games where Parker has made more than one basket, the Bearcats are 8-0.
"When I came back here after the summer, I was really hitting shots," said Parker. "The guys were all saying, 'He can shoot now,' so I knew I had improved."
Broomstick aside, there is no mystery behind JaQuon's dramatic improvement. It's the result of many hours of hard work in the gym.
"I told him at the end of last year that we had to have a serious talk about whether he was going to stay at Cincinnati or not," said head coach Mick Cronin. "Playing at the highest level means that you have to be totally committed and you have to develop your game on offense. You can't just show up at practice and be a good guy and play hard on defense. You have to be a totally committed basketball player. He took it to heart and he did it. You have to give him all of the credit because he did a great job in the off-season."
"He let me know that if I worked hard, I would be an important piece next season, so I took that seriously," said Parker.
But even before that conversation with his head coach, Parker realized that he needed to improve his work ethic.
"I think it was the second-to-last game last year," said Coach Davis. "We were out doing shooting drills before the game and he looked at me and said, 'Coach, I blew it.' I said, 'What do you mean JaQuon?' And he said, 'I didn't work last summer like I should have. I have nobody to blame but myself. That's not going to happen again. I'm going to work my butt off and when I come back, I'm going to play. I am going to play.'"
"When I went home, I worked out with Maurice Riddick who played professionally overseas," said Parker. "He's a real close friend to the family and I got a chance to work out with him every day for the month-and-a-half that I was home."
"He definitely came back in the fall a much more confident basketball player," said Coach Cronin.
And while Parker is not going to continue making 58% of his 3-point shots, he's just as unlikely to go back to being the player who did not make a trey in his last 11 games last season.
"Oh man, it was really tough," said Parker. "I think I tried too hard to make shots instead of just going out there and shooting it. Just seeing the ball go through the net helped me get my confidence back. It's a lot more fun when you're making shots."
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