Kuiper fighting his way out of shooting slump
ALBUQUERQUE — It hasn’t quite gotten to the point where he’s erected a temple to Major League’s Jobu in his locker, complete with burning incense and chatter about sacrificing a chicken in the name of consistency.
Nope. Not yet.
For now, the methods used by Dane Kuiper to snap out of his seasonlong shooting funk are still somewhat traditional, if not a bit unusual.
In the last week or two he has employed the help of assistant coach David Chiotti to unearth the touch that has evaded him most of his junior season with The University of New Mexico men’s basketball team. Through 26 games, the 6-foot-7 shooting guard out of Alaska is converting just 29.9 percent of his tries from 3-point territory.
He has missed 22 of his last 24 attempts from beyond the arc and has scored double figures just twice in the last 12 games.
Kuiper said he turned to Chiotti just to mix things up. It’s an interesting choice given the fact that Chiotti, a Lobo center between 2002-06, attempted just 25 3-pointers, hitting only six.
A Lobo assistant on head coach Paul Weir’s staff, he works almost exclusively with the post players during practice. Most of the time he’s the guy holding the football blocking pad under the basket, ramming into players as they drive to the basket during half-court drills.
If nothing else, he offers a fresh perspective without a huge amount of critical analysis.
“It’s nice to get in there and start working with him,” Kuiper said. “To have a new face telling you what to do.”
Chiotti’s feedback is minimal, at best. After practice ends, he and Kuiper retreat to one end of the floor with a manager or two. Chiotti stands a few feet shy of the 3-point line next to a rack of balls while the managers station themselves around the basket.
One at a time, Chiotti passes a ball to Kuiper at the line. Within a minute he will launch 15 to 20 shots, getting no rest in between.
“It’s all about muscle memory and not thinking about the arc or spin of the ball,” Kuiper said. “Really, it’s all mental.”
Weir has picked up on Kuiper’s issues, although the coach admits he’s more concerned with the team’s defense than he is shooting the ball.
“No, he’s got a good shot and, look man, it’s not like I’m telling him not to shoot,” Weir said. “The last thing he needs sometimes is someone analyzing his technique every time he touches the ball.”
Kuiper gets most of his minutes by doing everything but scoring. He’s adept at doing the little things on defense to keep the Lobos in games. He’s also careful with the ball, having turned it over just 21 times to 43 assists.
Weir has spent time this season working with Kuiper on the finer points of shooting. They’ve gone over finger position on the ball, making sure the feet are set and shoulders square, being sure to hoist shots within the flow of the offense rather than forcing them as a means to work through a slump.
The last thing Weir wants is any player overthinking the properties of a slump. In fact, he called Kuiper during the Super Bowl just to tell him he still had faith in him and not to worry about laying bricks.
“You know Canadians really don’t care about football so he didn’t really care,” Kuiper joked about having his coach call in the middle of the game. “It’s just nice to know your coach has your back and doesn’t care if you’re making shots as long as you play hard and give it everything you have.”
Must win? The Lobos return home Wednesday night to face Utah State in what amounts to an elimination game for a top-five spot in the Mountain West Conference standings. Both teams enter with identical 7-6 league marks, leaving them a half-game out of third place. Sitting just in front of them are UNLV, Fresno State and Wyoming in third.
The top five teams in the final standings get a bye out the MWC Tournament, scheduled to start March 7 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. The bottom six teams play in the opening round with the three winners moving into the March 8 quarterfinals.
Full strength: The Lobos will have all 10 scholarship players on the roster for Wednesday’s game. It’s the first time they’ll have everyone available since traveling to Boise State on Jan. 3. That was the game where guard Troy Simons was ejected for drawing two technical fouls, starting a string of 10 straight games with an abbreviated roster that ranged between six and nine players.