NORMAN — There’s nothing more solitary than shooting jump shots all by yourself. Good or bad, there’s a lot of time to think about the process.
Oklahoma point guard Sam Grooms has spent many mornings, afternoons and nights doing that exact thing. He hoisted jumpers in daily solitude hoping that special feeling required between the mind and body would finally synchronize.
“I came here so many times and just shot by myself, trying as much as I can to get that confidence going in my head,” Grooms said while standing in the Sooners’ practice gym Monday.
There are 10 baskets in there. Grooms would fire shots at all of them.
His teammates watched it as well. Practice would end and Grooms would immediately head off to one end of the court and start firing jump shots. They saw a decent amount were going through the net. On game days, however, Grooms seemed to forget that part.
OU forward Romero Osby kept reminding him.
“I just told him to play with confidence,” Osby said. “A lot of times last year he would get down on himself and even earlier this year people would sag off of him and he would still hesitate. I would always tell him to let it fly. If you miss it, you miss it. We all miss shots and make shots. I told him he works on his game too much to not take those shots in the game.”
Grooms heard the encouraging words, but they weren’t enough. That little voice in his head during games still screamed “No!” when opponents practically begged him to shoot jumpers.
“I would second-guess myself all the time before I shot and it didn’t turn out well,” Grooms said. “It’s probably one of the hardest things to deal with when people around you are telling you they support you and you don’t believe in it yourself.”
The voice, however, has been muted.
Over the last three games — at Oklahoma State, at Texas and Baylor at home — the few true jump shots Grooms has been willing to take have fallen.
Just a couple have lifted the Sooners (18-8, 9-5 Big 12) to another offensive level as they prepare to face Texas (12-15, 4-10) at 8 tonight inside the Erwin Center.
Grooms, who has averaged 17.6 points per game over the Sooners’ last three contests, has no interest in becoming a full-on jump shooter. He just wants to make an opponent have to guard him somewhere other than the paint.
He’s at his best when he can drive and attack and that’s hard to do when defenders won’t guard you.
“When a defense doesn’t have to honor a jumper at all … it limits what you can do,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Sam making a couple jumpers has been huge for him. Not just for his confidence, but making the defense play him. Now it’s five on five instead of five on four.”
OU’s averaged 85 points over its last three outings.
Grooms also has 13 assists against five turnovers during the same period.
Grooms is playing his best basketball as a Sooner. The reason: confidence.
Make no mistake, Grooms hasn’t rained down jump shots over the last three games. Only 12 of his points have come on shots outside the paint during the stretch. He’s 5-for-8 from outside the lane and has made his only two 3-point attempts.
But a little can go a long way. The doubt that would surface when a defender sagged off is gone. Removing that weight has allowed Grooms to play terrific basketball.
“Sam hasn’t been at this level since he’s played here,” Kruger said. “He’s had moments where he’s played very well. These last three he’s clearly played at his highest level.”
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