RICHMOND, Va. – Sorry, Mo Alie-Cox, we didn’t know any better.
Generally, whenever a power forward or center finds himself on an island beyond the 3-point arc, the audience treats it like a stunt from Jackass. They egg the big guy on until he agrees and lets the shot fly, then they gasp in horror. And much like the guy who rides down a steep hill in a shopping cart while on fire, the audience goes nuts when he sticks the landing.
It continues this way until the audience is convinced that this isn’t just a parlor trick, that it’s an actual feature of the player’s game. There are a lot more Chris Kamans in the world than Arvydas Sabonises, so it takes longer for the big guys to gain the public’s trust.
So when Alie-Cox, a chiseled, 6-foot-6, 250-pound power forward, found himself marooned with the ball atop the 3-point line with 14 minutes remaining in a six-point game Saturday night, he was met with the usual roar of curious encouragement. Calmly, Alie-Cox sized up the shot and buried it.
“That’s been a shot I’ve been working on all summer. Coach told me, if I’m wide open, shoot it. Or if I’m not, just go ahead and reverse it. They left me wide open, so I just hoisted up the shot and it went in,” Alie-Cox said afterwards.
While Alie-Cox’s ambition may have startled the home crowd, one person who wasn’t particularly concerned was VCU Coach Shaka Smart.
“No, I didn’t mind [the shot],” Smart said afterwards. “It sounded like the crowd minded it. It was one of those things where the crowd was like, ‘No!’ And then it went in and the crowd went nuts, but I didn’t mind it.”
The 3-pointer, the first of Alie-Cox’s three-game college career, fueled a critical 7-0 VCU run and was the most memorable takeaway from a solid overall performance for the Middleburg, Va. native. Alie-Cox, who scored two points in his previous two games, finished with 10 on 4-of-4 shooting from the field. The rugged forward also corralled six rebounds in 14 minutes of the Rams’ 92-71 win over Winthrop.
Alie-Cox was the most recent of VCU’s freshman class to turn in an impressive performance early in the season, joining Jordan Burgess, JeQuan Lewis and Doug Brooks. Like Burgess, Alie-Cox was ruled a partial qualifier last season by the NCAA. Unlike Burgess, Alie-Cox was not allowed to practice with the team during the 2012-13 season, which made his breakout effort all the more refreshing. After two nondescript stat lines, Alie-Cox comfortably negotiated the painted area on both sides of the floor. Smart says that now that Alie-Cox is able to practice, he’s making the most of it.
“For Mo, what I’m most excited about is the way that he prepared for tonight’s game,” he said. “His practice on Thursday, his practice on Friday, his approach to shootaround. It was very clear he was going to be successful.”
Alie-Cox is averaging 4.0 points and 3.0 rebounds this season.
LETTING THE BIG GUYS EAT
Speaking of big men who can shoot the three, Alie-Cox wasn’t the only VCU frontcourt player to let it fly from 3-point range Saturday. Senior Juvonte Reddic buried two treys against Winthrop and is 3-of-3 from long range this season. Reddic entered the season 1-of-9 from that distance in his career.
Remarkably, power forwards Reddic, Alie-Cox and Jarred Guest are a combined 5-of-5 from beyond the arc this season.
While that may rankle a few college basketball “purists”, it’s okay with Smart – for now. Smart dared to use the word “fun” in a discussion of serious college basketball Saturday. He’s willing to risk upsetting a few apple carts, however.
“Big guys, their life isn’t always as much fun out there on the court as it is for the guards, who run around, fling them up all the time and get to handle the ball, so you’ve got to throw those guys a bone sometimes,” he said with a wry grin. “So, we want to get them the ball inside as much as possible, but in our break, big guys are going to be trailing…and if they’re open and they can shoot the ball on balance, then we give them that opportunity.”
Smart says Alie-Cox is the best shooter of VCU’s true post players, which is meaningful, when you consider Reddic’s emerging outside game.
Former VCU power forward Jamie Skeen helped spur the Rams’ Final Four run in 2011 with a flurry of 3-point attacks, but Smart isn’t ready to put any of this year’s players in that class.
“They’re not in his league in terms of outside shooters,” Smart said. “I’ll take an open three from Jamie Skeen every single time. We’ll just kind of play it by ear. They’re shooting the ball well now. It really stretches the defense and gives us an added element any time you have a big guy that can step out and shoot threes.”
But while Smart’s style of play allows for a measure of freedom on the floor, he’s not going to permit a free-for-all. There are situations that merit a Reddic 3-point attempt, but more often than not, the big guys belong down low.
“They’ve started the year, all of them, shooting the ball well from out there, but they’ve just got to remember where their bread and butter is, and that’s in the paint,” Smart said.
WHISTLEGATE 2013-14 UPDATE
While concerns that the NCAA’s emphasis on handchecks and other contact would negatively impact VCU’s turnover-producing fullcourt press may come to bear at some point, they have so far been largely unfounded.
Through three games, the Rams are turning their opponents over 29 percent of the time, slightly more than last season’s 28.5 percent. VCU opponents have averaged 22.0 turnovers per game this year, compared to 19.7 last season. Fouls are up, however, to 24.0 per game so far, compared to 2012-13’s 19.7 per contest.
While a three-game sample size is entirely too small to draw meaningful conclusions, these numbers are worth following this season.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Winthrop Coach Pat Kelsey was a quote machine during Saturday’s post-game press conference, but his opening line should endear him to Rams fans:
“You know, I’ve coached for a quite a long time in a lot of venues as an assistant for a while. I’ve been to Cameron Indoor Stadium and Coached at Fog Allen Field House. This is my first opportunity to coach here and this place here and the atmosphere that the fanbase creates is what college basketball is all about and it’s in the realm of those other venues. So, tip of the cap to the VCU faithful and to Coach Smart and his team.”
Two days later, the colorful second-year coach followed up on his effusive VCU praise on Twitter:
Dear Cincinnati Bengals, Draft VCU pg Briante Weber as a cover corner. All-Pro. My guess 4.35 forty. Sincerely, Pat from RockTheHill, SC
— Pat Kelsey (@patkelsey) November 18, 2013