Jaime Echenique sets a screen, pops to the three-point line to receive the swing pass and swishes the shot, runs back down the court with his three goggles on to celebrate.
This is the Wichita State version of Echenique, the 6-foot-11 junior center from Barranquilla, Colombia averaging 8.3 points and 6.3 rebounds who has also made four three-pointers (on 50-percent accuracy) in his last four games for the Shockers.
But before Echenique arrived in Wichita, the scene above would have qualified as bizarre. In his two seasons with Trinity Valley Community College, Echenique took a total of two three-pointers in 64 games. Even in his first three games for WSU, Echenique didn’t hoist one from deep.
“I don’t consider myself a real shooter,” said Echenique laughing. “I have been working all summer on my long range and I just want to help my teammates. I don’t care where I score, I will do the small things. I want to make winning plays.”
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It’s not surprising Echenique added the three-point shot to his arsenal at WSU, where coach Gregg Marshall has worked with big guys like J.T. Durley, Garrett Stutz, Shaquille Morris and Darral Willis to expand their range. But all of those players required at least a year to make threes consistently.
In less than six months, Echenique gained Marshall’s trust in practice to shoot threes in a game.
“We talked about it in the summer,” Marshall said. “He can shoot the three, but they need to be good threes. He’s not a seek-a-three type shooter. It’s a left foot, right foot, toe-to-toe type deal for him to take those shots. I noticed in the summer that Jaime could shoot the basketball and every once in a while he would pop out there and it would look good and go in.”
Since practices started, Echenique will stay afterward to work on his three-point shot. He will run drills where he pretends to set a screen, then pops to the three-point line looking for the shot. He works a lot on his footwork, making sure he’s ready to shoot when he catches the pass.
The extra work and repetition has helped him in games, where Echenique has found much of his success launching open threes after popping to the left wing following a screen.
“He gave me the option,” Echenique said of Marshall. “He told me, ‘Hey, if you work on this, you can do it.’ So I went to work because I wanted to have more opportunities to score, but (three-point shooting) isn’t my main focus. I will take one or two a game. If I am hot, I will keep shooting, but it’s not something I always look for.”
Echenique’s new-found ability to make three-pointers actually doesn’t surprise his junior college coach, Guy Furr. Although Echenique only took two three-pointers in his two years at Trinity Valley, that had more to do with the team’s personnel than Echenique’s shooting ability.
“Jaime could always really shoot the basketball and he had good rotation and a soft touch,” Furr said. “He just didn’t have the opportunity with us to show that in games. That’s why we always felt like Jaime was going to be a better Division I player than junior-college player. He had a good career for us, but he has a high, high ceiling.”
While Echenique didn’t post gaudy numbers at Trinity Valley, WSU made him a high recruiting priority. The Shockers viewed him as the ideal center for their move to the American Athletic Conference: a mobile (near) 7-footer who can be a two-way force with his rebounding and defense.
So far that scenario has played out: Echenique ranks nationally on a per-minute basis for offensive (241) and defensive (41) rebounds, blocks (77) and steals (325), per KenPom.com. Synergy ranks Echenique as WSU’s best defender and in the 89th percentile nationally. The three-point shooting is just icing on the cake.
“There were a lot of disappointed coaches who came and saw Jaime and then found out he had already signed,” Furr said. “I’ve seen some people act like Jaime was some obscure junior-college kid playing in a witness protection league. We’re a top-10 team in the country pretty much every year and we probably had over 100 Division I coaches on our campus last year. Wichita State worked hard to get him and they got a steal.”
By adding the three-point shot to his repertoire, Echenique has become even more dangerous in the pick-and-roll game, which should create a ripple effect throughout WSU’s offense.
Opposing centers can no longer linger around the free throw line to prevent dribble penetration when Echenique is setting screens near the top of the key. The bigs will have to be quicker to vacate that area to rush back to Echenique to honor his three-point stroke. That should open up driving lanes for the ball handler coming off Echenique’s screens.
“It just spaces the floor a lot more,” WSU point guard Ricky Torres said. “And even when (Echenique) isn’t the screener it can help. If (Markis) McDuffie is setting the screen, McDuffie can actually roll now because Jaime can pop out to the three. It makes it so much easier to make that read because both can hurt you as the roller or the pop guy.”
Echenique has rushed a few from the perimeter, which has drawn the ire of Marshall.
But the coach is willing to work with Echenique, as long as the big man remains willing to put in the additional time.
“I’ve got to make sure he’s continuing to practice on it because they don’t get a lot of three-point shooting practice in our practices,” Marshall said. “They’re doing mostly post stuff, so they’re going to have to work on that on their own. And the other thing they’re going to have to do is continuing to make them in practice. If you make them in practice, I’m going to continue to let you shoot them in games.”