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March 3, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Iman Shumpert is his own toughest critic. No matter how the Georgia Tech junior performs in a basketball game, he usually believes he could have done more – an extra assist here, a key 3-pointer there, another rebound or two and perhaps a defensive stop when the game is close.
Most people look at his statistics and marvel – he’s the only player in the ACC to lead his team in scoring (17.2), rebounds (6.1), assists (3.5) and steals (2.5). The steals mark leads the league, by the way.
But his effort hasn’t translated into many wins on the basketball court. The Yellow Jackets are 3-11 in the ACC and 11-17 overall. Their game Thursday night at Wake Forest is their final chance to earn an ACC road win.
Some players might throttle back a bit, even unconsciously, in such circumstances. Not Shumpert.
“I feel like I owe it to my team, I feel like I owe it to the fans, I feel like I owe it to Georgia Tech to go out and play hard no matter what our record is or how many people come to the game,” he said. “No matter how down I am, I’ve got to go out there and give it my all.”
No one would dispute that Shumpert gives it his all. He has recorded a triple double this year (22 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists against Virginia Tech), scored 30 points to lead a rout of North Carolina and consistently tormented opponents. He burned Wake for 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists in a 35-point thrashing.
“He’s a complete player,” said Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik. “He has size, he has length, he can post up, he makes enough 3s that you have to honor him, he drives it well, he moves extremely well without the ball.
“He’s the type of player that doesn’t allow his offensive game that moment to affect his defense. He’s always engaged defensively, he can guard many players on the court because of his length, because of the fact that he’s extremely quick and he anticipates well.”
Shumpert admits he gets frustrated because the Jackets have gotten close to several wins but have been unable to make the plays to pull them off. His coach, Paul Hewitt, said the outcomes wear on Shumpert but don’t show for long.
“Certainly after games when you get the final result and you walk back to the locker room I think he gets down,” Hewitt said. “But he has the ability to get back out there the next day. He loves to work on his game, he loves to practice, he’s always talking about just trying to work hard, just trying to get better.”
His game has grown dramatically this season. With the loss of several key inside players from last year, Shumpert saw that he would be needed to increase his output across the board. Of all the stats, perhaps the most surprising has been his rebounding.
“I knew I was going to have to do more in each category if we were going to be successful,” he said. “Early on, rebounds just weren’t getting taken care of, so Glen Rice and I sort of took it on ourselves to try and be board men. After awhile you get aggressive and start predicting where the shots are coming off.”
The 6-foot-5 guard has always had a knack for steals. Opposing players in the ACC know he’s aggressive and good at it, so it’s tougher for him to just knock the ball away from an opponent. He doesn’t want to give away fouls going for steals, so he picks his spots, thanks to watching a lot of tape.
“When we get the schedule at the beginning of the year I’m watching film on guys,” Shumpert explained. “I just like to study and see what they like to do, pick up tendencies, sort of pick out plays that people like to run and identify them early. Sometimes I just cheat the play and shoot gaps. Other times my teammates do a really good job of pressuring and I take it upon myself to play passing lanes.”
So when he looks at a stat sheet, how does Shumpert judge what kind of game he has played? Generally speaking, he feels that even if he plays badly, he should finish with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and a solid effort on defense.
“My father told me that you can’t have a bad game defensively,” he said. “Defense is all about energy and effort, sitting down in a stance and wanting to do it and paying attention to your scouting report.”
Statistically, Shumpert is not a great shooter, hitting 40.3 percent of all his shots and just 26.1 percent on 3-pointers. That bothers him, particularly the percentage behind the arc.
“I know he’s not pleased with his 3-point shooting and I’ve tried to get him to separate shooting and playing well,” Hewitt said. “Don’t make yourself feel like because you’re not shooting the ball well you’re not playing well. I think he’s gotten it in his mind to separate those things. He continues to work on his shooting, I think he’s improved his shot selection (and is) taking fewer shots off the dribble from 3.”
Of course, as far as Shumpert is concerned, he sees no reason he shouldn’t be good at that aspect of his game, too.
“To tell you truly, it’s frustrating to me,” he said of his low percentage. “I feel like I should be able to do it; I don’t know why. I don’t want to blame it on playing big minutes or anything like that. I just feel like when I’m open or when I get a good look I should be able to knock it down.”
This time of the season every ACC player feels fatigue in one way or another. Shumpert admits that heavy legs sometimes affect his jump shot, but he plays his way through it.
“I try to get care for my body,” he said. “A lot of cold tubs, a lot of ice, a lot of treatment. Coach Hewitt has been giving me blows in practice. I get good reps and then I get subbed in practice so we’re doing what we can to keep my legs. But it’s no complaints; I’ve just got to keep working hard.”
Something that helps Shumpert cope with the physical demands of the season, as well as some of the disappointment, is his creative side. He writes in his journal regularly – sometimes reflections of how he and the team have played, sometimes notes that he refers back to before practice, sometimes poetry, sometimes rap.
“A lot of the guys I go to camps with in the summer know I rap,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know what the future may hold there. “It’s starting to get out there a little bit. Right now it’s just for fun.”
Writing is something Shumpert enjoys, and family members and coaches have always encouraged him to keep it up. That figures to be part of his life long after basketball.
But there’s plenty of basketball left in Shumpert. And by no means has he given up on the rest of this season.
“We can definitely get two more wins to get rolling into the ACC Tournament,” he said, “and in the tournament anything can happen. Winning the ACC Tournament gets you an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. So my mindset is to go into the ACC Tournament and as long as we don’t lose, you keep playing.”
The Jackets are the likely No. 11 seed, meaning they would have to win four games in four days to be ACC champions. But they were in a similar situation last year when, as the seventh seed, they charged into the championship game before bowing to Duke by 65-61.
“I don’t see why this year we can’t put it together and make it to the championship game again,” Shumpert said.
If Georgia Tech is to pull that off, Shumpert will have to lead the way, not only in the stat columns but also as the catalyst.
“Not only has he played exceptionally well for us this year,” Hewitt said, “but he’s really grown as a player in terms of his off the court leadership and on the court leadership. He’s really matured a lot.
“He’s done everything you can possibly do on the court. He’s had an outstanding year and in my mind he’s one of the best five players in the conference.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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