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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bob Lutz: Kyles’ aim is perfect


Shooters aren’t born. Every good shooter I know of has spent hours in a gym — just him or her, a basketball and a goal.

Even with all that practice, though, the psyche of a shooter can be fragile. When shots don’t fall, confidence does. And when a shooter endures the kind of night Wichita State’s David Kyles did at Drake a week and a half ago, the effect can be lasting.

Kyles was 1 for 12 against Drake. He missed all eight of his three-point tries. He followed that up by missing the four shots he took against Missouri State, then took one shot in 24 minutes — a miss, of course — against Indiana State.

You can imagine Kyles’ angst as the Shockers swung the ball around the perimeter during a first-half offensive possession against Northern Iowa on Wednesday night at Koch Arena.

Kyles knew the ball was going to get to him and it was becoming obvious that he would be wide open, just behind the three-point arc.

He could have passed, I suppose, but the crowd of 10,241 and his coach, Gregg Marshall, probably would have had an issue with that decision.

So Kyles shot the ball, the way he’s shot thousands of balls in his life. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t consciously think. He just pulled the trigger.

And the ball went in. And so did the next one, and the one after that and the one after that and, finally, the one after that. He was a big part of a big offensive night for the Shockers, who made 12 three-pointers — four by Kyles — during an 82-57 win.

Kyles had a 5-for-5 night according to the statistics, although he airballed a rushed shot at the end of the shot clock in the second half. The stats crew ruled that Kyles didn’t release the ball before the 35-second clock expired. Maybe they just wanted him to have a perfect night.

“I know after the Drake game I beat myself up pretty bad,” Kyles said. “Those are normally the kinds of shots good players embrace, especially if you want to go on and do bigger things. But I just couldn’t get them to fall. Some rolled in and out, but I couldn’t get them to fall.”

The worst thing a shooter can do is doubt himself. But there are times when it’s unavoidable.

Kyles’ teammates prodded him to stay confident. Marshall kept his message to Kyles positive.

“I go back to the psychological part of the game,’’ Marshall said, “and you can’t tell a kid that shoots the basketball well the majority of the time not to shoot. If you do that, then you don’t get the performance that you did tonight (out of Kyles). If I start telling him, ‘David, you’re playing awful, so really just go out there and don’t shoot because you’re really killing us … then he’s no good to us.

“So I’ve been telling him about how much he’s meant to our wins lately with his defense and rebounding.”

While Kyles appreciated the support from his buddies and coaches, he knew he wasn’t going to be right again until he made some shots. The misses kept him up at night.

“They made me doubt myself,’’ he said.

Oh my, the D-word.

The great shooters don’t even acknowledge its existence. They avoid it at all costs. They don’t go to No Doubt concerts. They don’t rent “Mrs. Doubtfire” on a nothing-to-do Friday night. They cringe at the term “reasonable doubt.”

“Lately, in games, I haven’t been aggressive,” Kyles said. “Everybody knows I’ve been putting in the work during practice and outside of practice. But missing all those shots at Drake made me stop shooting in games. I was mentally messed up.”

When he released his first shot Wednesday night, during a stretch when almost everything the Shockers were throwing up was going in, Kyles said he felt good.

At least physically.

The ball, he said, came off his hands just right. He had good rotation. Good arc.

And as he watched the ball in flight, he expected it to go in.

But when you’ve made one of your past 17 shots and watched your field-goal percentage slide under 40 percent, your expectations are altered.

“When I let it go I thought it was going to be good,” Kyles said. “But that’s how I felt about the others. This is a big monkey off my back, man.”

Kyles might have fed off his teammates, most of whom shot the ball well.

With all the three-pointers, it was a flurry of four Toure Murry two-point baskets during a 2:47 stretch early in the second half that helped stave off a Northern Iowa rally that pulled the Panthers to within three points, after being down by 21 just five minutes earlier.

But it was Kyles’ shot-making that mattered most. He, more than any other Shocker, needed a boost in confidence. Shooters need to make shots to feel like shooters. Kyles feels it again.

Check Bob Lutz’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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