One-by-one, Naz Long would take a pass from an ISU manager at the top of the key and rise with confidence.
Practice had ended long before at the Sukup Basketball Complex, but Long and Fred Hoiberg stood together working through the sophomore’s 3-point shot. First, he sunk 10 shots at the top before moving to each corner at the practice facility. All along the way, Hoiberg shouted out advice.
The fourth-year coach told Long to watch his tempo and slow down.
“It’s always good because he was a top shooter in college and in the [NBA],” Long said of working with Hoiberg. “Any type of advice he has for me, I’m accepting with open arms forever and always.
“Every time he tells me something I listen and just get it down.”
The extra one-on-one session after a practice last week paid off for Long and the Cyclones as he hit four of Iowa State’s five 3-pointers the victory on Feb. 15. Entering the weekend, Long had gone 2-of-18 behind the arc since Jan. 25 and hadn’t made three or more 3-pointers in a game since Jan. 11.
Long jumped onto the scene in his sophomore season, hitting eight 3-pointers in Iowa State’s season-opener in November. He made another four the following week against No. 7 Michigan at Hilton.
In recent weeks, Long had fallen into a slump. That’s where Hoiberg came in.
“The big thing is build their confidence up,” Hoiberg said of working with players. “If you can see little things, detect little things in their shots that you think you can help them with, [it helps].
He should know. In 2005, his last of 10 NBA seasons, Hoiberg hit 70-of-145 3s for the Minnesota Timberwolves, ending the season with a 48.3 shooting percentage behind the arc, the best mark in the NBA.
Much of the confidence players get behind the arc, they say, stems from Hoiberg.
“Man, he’s confident. I’ll tell you that much,” Long said. “When he says rise up and knock it down, he’s not only talking about his players, he’s talking about himself. He’s a confident person, and that’s a good thing.”
Players say they see plenty of Hoiberg’s shooting skills in practice, too. Hoiberg will occasionally rise up and shoot a jumper himself.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it usually goes in,” Long said. “It’s funny. Every time he shoots, before it goes in, he’s like, ‘That’s money right there.’ And it falls, so we all get a good laugh out of it.”
Hoiberg’s NBA pedigree and knack for offense has been a strong draw for both transfers and incoming freshmen in his first four seasons at the helm.
“He was basically a very similar player to what I am and what I’m trying to be is what he’s done,” said freshman Matt Thomas. “To have his guidance and having his knowledge available is definitely a big reason why I’m here.”
Iowa State attempted 924 shots from the 3-point range last season and made an ISU record 346 of them. Those numbers are down this year as the Cyclones have attempted fewer 3s.
Through 24 games this season the Cyclones have made 203 3-pointers. Long (40) and Thomas (37) have combined for 77 of those 3-pointers, more than 1/3 of the ISU makes from long range.
As Iowa State enters the final three weeks of Big 12 play beginning with No. 19 Texas tonight, those 3-pointers will be more important than ever.
“If you have a guy that can stand out there and stretch the floor, especially when all the teams in our league play zone at some point during a game — including Texas — it makes things a lot easier,” Hoiberg said.
That’s why Long and Thomas have spent time with Hoiberg in recent weeks.
Thomas took pointers from Hoiberg during a slump after he moved to the bench as a role player and started Big 12 play 4-of-17 beyond the arc. He promptly went on a stretch with at least two 3s in four-straight games.
Long bounced back Feb. 15 after his recent post-practice work with Hoiberg.
“Obviously [Hoiberg has] been there,” Thomas said. “He’s been through slumps and the highs and lows of basketball.”