PORTLAND, Ore. — Late in a practice Thursday, Jalen Brunson and Allonzo Trier are having a rapid-fire competition.
As Brunson, a guard from Stevenson (Lincolnshire, Ill.), nails shot after shot from the top of the key with his left hand, he calls out the number of made shots in a row, hoping to annoy Trier, a guard from Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), who pays little attention while consistently bombing away with pretty precision. In comparison, Luke Kennard and Malik Newman’s jumpers look a little uglier, but no less consistent.
It’s all in fun, but there’s serious work at stake. In the 17 times the Nike Hoop Summit has been played, the winning team has had the better (or same) three-point shooting percentage in 13 of those games. The annual showdown is Saturday.
For a part of the game that often gets overlooked, there’s little question that outside shooting plays a major role in international basketball.
Kennard, a Duke signee from Franklin, Ohio, leads the team with a .517 three-point shooting percentage in his five international games and won the three-point shooting contest at the McDonald’s All America Games. Like all good shooters, Kennard doesn’t lack for confidence. Asked who the best shooter was on the U.S. squad, he said, “Am I allowed to vote for myself?”
“That’s one of my roles on the team,” Kennard said. “Just shoot the ball. I’m not too bad at that. Malik Newman is a good scorer and Allonzo can shoot the ball, too. If you have shooters, it opens up the floor for our big guys. We have a very talented big class. If we have shooters outside and we’re knocking down shots, it will open up things for them down low. Plus, it can cause trouble when you’re knocking down threes.”
The Arizona-bound Trier and Villanova-bound Brunson say that Kennard is the team’s “second-best shooter,” leaving unsaid who they think is the obvious choice for No. 1.
“He’s a great spot shooter,” Trier said of Kennard. “I think I shoot it great from all three levels: on the spot; off the dribble; and off the catch. It’s important. We’re playing on an NBA floor, so we will be able to stretch them out. They have a big team, but hopefully, our long-range shooting will make them come out and guard us more and then we can beat them off the dribble and take away from their length.”
For Brunson, who finished second in the McDonald’s three-point shooting contest, hitting a few extra threes can break an opponent’s back.
“Everyone is so versatile in this game,” Brunson said. “We have 6-11 guys who can shoot threes. That’s how you win games. You can gave up twos as long as you have key guys at the three-point line. I think I’ll be more open (Saturday) because there are so many good players in this game.”