LAFAYETTE — The camera in his face isn’t as obtrusive as a 6-foot-5 defender barreling down on him, but it’s still in the way as Kasey Shepherd rises and fires from the top of the key at the Leon Moncla Indoor Practice Facility.
The ball spins at a wild RPM on its high-arcing journey before finding the bottom of the net.
“First shot of the day,” Shepherd said. “It’s going to be a good day.”
Days have been good more often than not for Shepherd this season.
He has shot the lights out in the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team’s first 15 games. Even after he went 3-of-11 from the field in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 84-80 win Thursday against Georgia State — by far his worst shooting effort of the season — Shepherd is knocking down shots at an expert clip.
He’s making more than 54 percent of his shots, an absurdly high rate for an off-ball guard who has taken nearly half of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc. This is coming on the heels of his sophomore season, when he also connected on 54 percent of his shots … from the 3-point line.
“I expect it,” coach Bob Marlin said. “If I see something long enough, I’m going to expect it and demand that he does certain things to keep it up there. For an off guard to shoot that high? It’s really good.”
Marlin said he knew he had a good shooter when he recruited Shepherd, but the coaching staff made some refinements to his jump shot to allow Shepherd to unlock his potential.
They worked mainly on footwork and quickening his release, and it has yielded tangible results. Shepherd shot 32 percent from the field as a freshman.
Since each player’s jumper is unique — “It’s like your name,” assistant coach Kevin Johnson said — coaches are usually delicate when tweaking a player’s jumper.
That doesn’t stop people from seeing Shepherd’s statistics and asking for pointers on how to shoot the ball.
“A lot of times when people ask me about it, I don’t try to tell people to do what I do. I tell them, ‘Do what you do; find what works for you, and then fine-tune it,’ ” Shepherd said, pantomiming a slight turn of a knob with his hands. “However you shoot, take that and work on it.”
Coaches worked with Shepherd on his footwork when he arrived on campus, and it’s noticeable in his setup: He has put a lot of work into always having his feet in the proper position to get the most accurate shot up.
If he sees a teammate drive toward the basket, Shepherd intentionally places his right foot further back so he can step into his shot when he catches the pass. It’s all about being ready.
“In the game, I try my best to be focused, locked in and ready to shoot at all times, because you never know when the ball’s going to come your way,” he said.
One of the most important aspects about Shepherd’s shooting ability doesn’t have anything to do with his shooting form at all. When Shepherd catches the ball, he has to make a split-second decision about whether to pull the trigger.
“That’s a big thing for people who can really shoot the ball: knowing when to shoot and knowing when not to shoot,” Shepherd said. “I know that I’m a set shooter. A lot of times people ask why I didn’t shoot when I caught it. Well, I wasn’t ready to shoot. If I’m not ready, I won’t shoot the ball — that leads to a bad shot.”
The lock and rise
Once Shepherd has decided to shoot, he locks in on his target and begins the motion of his shot. This is one part of Shepherd’s mechanical progression where he has to trust his natural form over what he has been taught by coaches.
Coaches try to get players to catch the ball high and move right into their jump shot mechanics, but it doesn’t work for everybody because a jumper has to be both repeatable and comfortable. Shepherd catches it lower and his release is therefore slower, making his shots easier to block. But this action is countered by Shepherd’s steep release angle.
One of the unique aspects of Shepherd’s shot is his release, which sends the ball on a high-angle flight toward the rim. On film, Shepherd’s shots sometimes disappear out of the camera frame.
Coaches altered a few aspects of Shepherd’s shot when he arrived on campus a couple of years ago, but this has remained untouched.
“He had a really nice (wrist) flick when he got here,” Johnson said. “I like the flight of his ball. It’s very consistent. Every time he shoots it, man, even on the ones he misses, I think they have a chance to go in.”
The mechanics of a jump shot are not finished once the ball is in flight. Shepherd, like most shooters, will tell you that the follow-through is the key to a sound jumper.
“You can’t short-change it,” he said. “Say you’ve got your feet set, you catch it and you took your time. And when you release it, you have a quick release but you don’t hold your follow-through? Well, you just threw off a perfectly good shot.”
How long do you hold it? Just a second, Shepherd said — but not too long.
“Coaches don’t like it,” he said, “when you pose.”