WINSTON-SALEM — Two voices were audible near one basket inside the almost-empty arena the instructor and the student.
Make your first off the dribble so you can get a rhythm, said Randolph Childress. Dont think about it. Everythings one at a time. One at a time. Same motion.
Nearby, and most certainly within earshot, an unguarded and shirtless Codi Miller-McIntyre tried shot after shot from beyond the 3-point arc, first from the left wing, then from the right. Come on, Codi! he exhorted himself. Shoot the ball.
Last season, as a starter in all but one game for Wake Forest, Miller-McIntyre hit only 32.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, a mere 56.5 percent at the foul line. He was even worse in ACC competition. If I missed one shot last year, I was out (mentally) for almost the entire game, he said.
Now the self-critical sophomore is determined to play through the misses when his team faces No. 19 North Carolina on Sunday night. Like Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, hes learning not only to hone his skills but to control his self-reproach, lest it adversely affect his individual performance and his effectiveness as a team leader.
When things arent going right, hes mad at himself and he needs to understand that, hey, you know what, even though Im mad with myself I cant allow my teammates to see me that way because theyre feeding off that, Childress said. I dont know if he quite grasps that yet. And that will come. Its a process right now. He hasnt mastered that skill set yet, but its coming.
Easing Miller-McIntyres focus on moving to the next play, his field-goal and free-throw shooting percentages have improved over his freshman season. His ratio of assists (78) to turnovers (57) is better, too, testament to his ongoing transformation to playmaker.
Seven times in 13 games he has led the Deacons in scoring, topped by 26 points in a loss to Kansas and 26 in an overtime victory over Richmond.
Last year I spent a full year basically not playing my game at all, Miller-McIntyre confessed. I shied away from the ball to be a pure point guard. That wasnt me, thats not who I am. That is the biggest difference, knowing exactly who I am and what Im capable of doing.
Miller-McIntyres aggressiveness is essential to the Wake Forest offense, according to coach Jeff Bzdelik. Strong and quick at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he has become adept at attacking off the dribble, an especially valuable trait in a season when rules interpretations encourage such forays. Codi certainly has the skill and the body to do that, Bzdelik said. In transition, he is like a runaway freight train. He is.
Guards trips to the foul line in part reflect successful dribble penetration; more college teams are resorting to zone defenses this season, if only to keep drivers away from the basket.
Childress was one of the ACCs best at earning free throws when playing guard for Wake Forest from 1991 through 1995. He believes Miller-McIntyre is capable of earning eight to 10 foul shots in the contemporary game. Last season, the High Point native averaged 1.5. This season Miller-McIntyre is up to six free throws per contest, tops on the squad. Hes converting 70.9 percent, fueling a team-high 17.0-point scoring average.
Wake Forest enters ACC play with a 10-3 mark, its best start in four years under Bzdelik. Miller-McIntryre, among the ACC leaders in scoring and assists, is key to converting that start into the coachs first winning overall record.
But first the repurposed shooting guard must become a more vocal, confident leader and a more consistent marksman from long range. Hes actually less accurate on 3-pointers than he was as an ACC newcomer .306 on 36 attempts this season.
Childress is confident the youngster has the capacity to overcome any deficiencies in his game. Codi has a chance to be really, really good, said the man whose retired jersey hangs from the Joel Coliseum rafters between those of Rodney Rogers and Tim Duncan. The skys the limit for him, it really is when you have the ability he has with the work ethic he has.
Not surprisingly, then, Miller-McIntyre can be found working with Childress before and after practices and pregame walk-throughs, seeking to tame a jump shot that varies in form from attempt to attempt. Hes more than a coach, hes a mentor, basically, Miller-McIntyre said. He played here before. Hes done everything that I wish to do in the future.
The apprenticeship extends off the court as well. Hes my older brother who played basketball, said Miller-McIntyre, who has three sisters. We talk about real life beyond basketball in terms of the work world girls, basketball, school, everything.
Childress tutoring includes how to prepare for a contest long before getting to the arena. Miller-McIntyre has taken up yoga. He listens to calm, soothing instrumental music like Beethoven and to inspirational spoken words to take his thinking to a deeper level, as he called it. Only as hes about to take the court does he resort to the louder, more insistent music that once was his sole preparation for entering competition.
And he works devotedly at his craft, with Childress there to goad, guide and support.
Recently, frustrated by his inability to consistently make shots during a workout, Miller-McIntyre angrily kicked an empty folding chair on the visitors bench at Joel Coliseum. As he kept shooting as the upended chair lay nearby in mute testament to his display of pique, his struggle to improve.
Five and were done, announced Childress, in his second year as an assistant coach under Bzdelik.
Miller-McIntyre missed four of his next five jump shots and hung his head.
If I tell you to follow through again, Im going to hit you in the head with the ball, Childress declared, more threatening than serious.
When the workout reached its final drill, Childress stood nearby taunting his pupil, as if it were a road game rather than a comfy afternoon in a familiar gym. His palms are sweaty! His palms are sweaty! the coach repeated in a nagging, singsong voice.
The nets barely perceptible ripple was Miller-McIntyres response as he sank 10 free throws and exited for the locker room.