At the end of one of my basketball seasons as a kid, I was presented with a trophy that read as follows: "Most Likely To Think It Was A Good Shot."
In other words, I wasn't shy about letting it fly -
despite the fact that I was a mediocre (at best) shooter.
UC sophomore Jermaine Sanders, on the other hand, has an excellent shooting stroke, but sometimes has to be pushed by his teammates to fire away.
"They always tell me to shoot," Jermaine told me. "At the beginning of the season I wasn't really shooting that much and they would get on me and tell me that they needed me to shoot in order for us to win."
While the former Rice (NY) High School star hasn't exactly morphed into a gunner, Sanders is starting to provide a nice offensive lift off of the Bearcats bench. In his last three games, Jermaine is averaging 6.3 points in roughly 16 minutes of playing time. During that stretch, he's made 7-of-13 shots (54%), including 3-of-8 three-pointers.
"He's more comfortable on offense and you can see his confidence growing," said head coach Mick Cronin. "He has the courage to take the open shot."
"I'm becoming more confident in what I can do," said Sanders.
Part of that confidence stems from a more athletic physique. Under the direction of new strength and conditioning coach Mike Rehfeldt, Sanders dropped 11 pounds over the summer and increased his no-step vertical leap by 3.5 inches.
"It makes me feel great about my game," said Sanders. "I can move quicker on defense, jump higher to get rebounds, and run the floor well. And I can still knock down shots at the end of the game because I'm in great condition."
"He's in better shape and he's more competitive," said Coach Cronin. "I think his intensity level is getting better each night out and that's allowing him to be more effective."
Before closing its doors due to financial difficulties in 2011, Rice H.S. in Harlem produced a "Who's Who" list of Big East basketball talent including Felipe Lopez (St. John's), Edgar Sosa (Louisville), Kemba Walker (UConn), and former Bearcat Kenny Satterfield. Sanders was clearly well-coached there by Moe Hicks (now part of the St. John's staff) and displays a high basketball I.Q. He's also one of the best passers on the Bearcat roster, ranking third on the team in assists-per-minute.
"I've always been able to pass and see the floor well," said Sanders. "Since I'm taller (6'5"), I can see over defenders and make a good pass. That really comes naturally to me. I'm really not that athletic, but I see the game better than most people."
Over the last three games, Sanders has the same number of three-pointers as assists. So, which of the two would he rather have?
"A '3'...but I like assists too," Jermaine said with a laugh.
This former gunner can identify.
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