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Lieberman making opposing teams feel the pressure

January 30, 2017

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — After Wyoming’s win Jan. 18 at San Jose State, Wyoming men’s basketball assistant coach Jeremy Shyatt tweeted that he thought junior Jeremy Lieberman had played “his best game of his career.”

Lieberman had nine points in the game, four short of a career high, and was not credited with an assist. So what made it his best game as a Cowboy?

“All because of his defense and intellect running the team,” Shyatt tweeted.

All season, Lieberman, who has started all but one game his junior year, has pressured the opposing team’s point guard as he takes the ball up the court.

It’s something new that Lieberman has tried under first-year head coach Allen Edwards.

“When he first took over, we sort of put in a different thing where I’m trying to not fully pressure but sort of make someone else bring the ball up,” Lieberman said. “But once I started doing that, I was like, ‘I could do this every time.’ I just started doing it, and he likes it.”

Now, it’s as if Wyoming is running a full-court press after every basket scored — except Lieberman is the only one pressing.

“That’s a lot tougher than people think, to try to stay in front of someone — the other team’s quickest guard — for 94 feet,” senior Jason McManamen said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

It’s not something Lieberman would have been capable of doing two seasons ago.

“I don’t think I was strong enough,” he said. “I’ve always been in shape. But I think starting with my legs, I got way faster working with Rob (Watsabaugh), our weight trainer, helping me a lot this offseason. In the weight room, just details, squats and all the stuff he’s making us do, I think I really paid attention this summer.”

Sometimes it takes opponents by surprise.

“I mean, especially being a white boy, they’re definitely like, ‘Whoa,’” Lieberman said. “But I think that sort of helps us as a team. When my teammates see me out there dogging the ball, they’re like, ‘OK, now it’s time to defend.’ I think it will be great for us moving on.”

In home games, it can wear the other team down. On the road, it makes Lieberman’s conditioning level shine.

“I feel like I’m floating out there,” he told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2kk0fYB).

But Lieberman’s legs aren’t even the most crucial body part to his defensive technique.

“I think it’s just heart,” he said. “It’s all effort. If you’re going to be able to out-work, I think you’ll be able to stay in front of the ball.”

His teammates have taken note.

“It’s something that’s great for our team and can really correlate to the other guys on the defensive end,” McManamen said. “He’s giving everything he has full court. We should be able to guard and stay in front of our man in the half court. And I feel like if we kind of put that all together, we can be a really good defensive team.”

It has carried over to his offensive play as well.

“I think he kind of put his mindset as defense first, and he kind of took the pressure off himself on offense,” McManamen said. “Now that he’s been playing such great defense and picking up that guy full court, he’s just letting the offense come to him. He’s getting open shots, and he’s making open shots these recent games. I expect him to keep it up.”

Said Edwards: “I think (Lieberman) has embraced the defensive part of it in the sense of finding his niche within this program. I think he’s taken it upon himself to be a pest on the ball. I thought it was really good in the San Jose State game. I thought it was very, very effective.”

In that 10-point win against the Spartans, Lieberman began the second half by forcing a turnover when San Jose State’s Jalen James was unable to get the ball across the half-court line in the allotted 10 seconds.

In fact, that play was what elicited Shyatt’s tweet in the first place. Clint Parks, Lieberman’s friend and trainer, called Lieberman the “best on ball defender in the Mountain West” in a tweet that Shyatt quoted.

“Jalen James found out tonight,” Parks tweeted, “and he won’t be the last guard.”

Lieberman’s full-court defense isn’t intended to force a turnover every time. It is, however, one of the most notable embodiments of the “assertive” style of play Edwards has tried to implement.

And if results in a takeaway, that’s all the better.

“Not only does it spark myself, but I think it sparks the whole team,” said Lieberman who let out a big cheer when he stymied James at San Jose State. “It sort of gives everyone that extra energy, even including guys on the bench. I think it’s great, and I think defense travels.

“So on the road if we’re not making shots, I think if we’re locked in on that end of the floor, I think we can come up with some big wins.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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