The statistical line for Newman senior guard Shamar Acuay tells a story, but I’m still trying to figure out the story it tells.
Acuay is 6 feet tall, yet he leads the Jets, who are bound for the NCAA Division II tournament to meet Midwestern State on Saturday night in Denver, with 43 offensive rebounds.
And we’re just getting started.
Acuay doesn’t start and plays less than half of a game, normally. His 18.2 minutes per game ties for fifth on a Newman team whose coach, Mark Potter, likes to spread the minutes and frequently substitutes five guys at a time.
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As a first-year point guard, and back-up to the Jets’ heart and soul, oft-injured senior Bobby Wesley, Acuay always provides a spark. Often it’s for his team; once in a while it’s a toxic combustible that blows up everything in its surroundings.
Acuay is Newman’s leading scorer with 14.6 points per game. Remember, that’s in less than half the game.
He has taken 256 shots, the most on the team. He has made 141, 38 more than any of his teammates.
Acuay doesn’t take many three-pointers, but has made 10 of the 19 he has attempted. He leads the team in steals with 47. He also leads Newman in turnovers, with 61.
And, finally, Acuay has gotten to the line 146 times, 56 more than teammate Darrell Traylor, who has the second-most foul shots for the Jets.
The first question I was dying to ask Potter is one he’s been asked before. Why doesn’t Acuay play more?
There’s a long-winded answer there, but it mostly boils down to Potter’s allegiance to Wesley, who has battled back from serious injuries to both of his knees to compete and lead in ways, Potter says, few other players he has coached are capable. So even though Wesley isn’t the offensive threat Acuay is, he starts and gets his minutes.
But when Acuay does enter a game, oh my. The game definitely changes.
“When Shamar has the right mindset, when he’s feeling right and his legs are right, he can score on anybody,” Potter said. “Anywhere, any time. His strength is putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. But when we post him up on whoever is guarding him, he’ll get his shot off. He does thing coaches can’t teach. It’s just that simple from an offensive standpoint.”
From a defensive standpoint things get a little more complicated.
Acuay, who is from Queens, N.Y., and spent two seasons at Colby Community College, isn’t always as engaged defensively, Potter said.
That’s a point on which Acuay and his coach – and sometimes they’ve butted heads over the right way for Acuay to play – agree.
“I could be better as a point guard,” Acuay said. “There are still things I need to learn. But I’ve been able to be around some guards who are really good and following Bobby and a couple of other players on the team, they’ve pointed me in the right direction.”
It has been tough at times for Acuay to keep up with quicker guards, Potter said. As the coach described the players strengths and weaknesses to me, Acuay was listening. And, for the most part, agreeing.
“Everything he’s said about me is true,” Acuay said. “Basically, Coach Potter has put me in a position where I can just go out and play.”
Realizing his minutes are going to be limited normally to 20 or fewer, Acuay leaves nothing to chance. He attacks, then attacks some more. With the ball in his hands, he has enough electricity to light a city.
“I was always taught that once you get into a game, whenver that is, you play your heart out,” Acuay said. “When Coach puts me in, he tells me to get the team going. To lead, and that’s what I try to do.”
Acuay jointed the Jets at the semester break last season and averaged a team-high 13.8 points per game while averaging 21.8 minutes. He’s been more effective with his playing time this season, but there has never been a shy bone in his body.
When Acuay enters a game chances are a shot is going up quickly. Or that he’ll draw a foul, make a steal, commit a turnover, attack the offensive backboard. There’s always activity surrounding Acuay.
“And now that we’re going to the national tournament, I’m probably the most excited person at Newman,” he said. “This is the farthest I’ve ever gotten as a basketball player. When I was at Colby, we didn’t do too well. There aren’t many people who can actually say they played in the NCAA Tournament.”
By now, Potter has figured out how to use Acuay. He puts him out there for a few minutes at a time, hoping the offense he creates will outweigh the defense the Jets sometimes sacrifice.
“Shamar was ineligible when he got here last year so we saw what he was capable of doing offensively on our scout team against our first two teams,” Potter said. “I knew if I didn’t screw him up, he could be really good. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve just let him play.”
The good has outweighed the not-so-good.