“Shoot the ball!”
Nearly 1,100 miles away in Las Vegas, Bishop Gorman High boys basketball coach Grant Rice yelled at his TV and pleaded with his former star, Jamal Bey, to take over in the final minutes of Washington’s 83-79 win over Utah last Sunday.
And Bey did, turning in a brilliant performance at Alaska Airlines Arena and finishing with a career-high 28 points on 10-for-11 shooting from the field. But Rice knew he could have been better.
“I was texting with some of our coaches after the game and said only Jamal Bey could score 28 points on 11 shots,” Rice said, laughing. “Although we were happy he scored 28, that was great and it was a career high, but he should have taken 17 or 18 shots and he might have had 35.
“But that’s just how Jamal is and that’s why he’s such an important player because he’s a team guy.”
In most instances, being a “team guy” is a term of endearment and a redemptive quality that coaches look for in players.
However, in Bey’s case, it’s a little more complicated.
That’s because being a “team guy” isn’t necessarily what the Washington men’s basketball team needs from its 6-foot-6 junior guard who has the experience, talent and pedigree to be what Rice called a “go-to guy.”
“His freshman year they had a lot of seniors there and he was able to (jump) in and play a little bit and learn a lot and fill a role,” said Rice, whose brother Dave is a UW assistant and nephew Travis is a senior walk-on. “Last year, some of those older guys left, but then they had some big-time freshman guys. He was able to be a contributor, but knew he could be a really good role player and a guy who could help them win games but they didn’t necessarily need him to go out and score 20 points a game.
“This year from the get-go, especially when they found out Naziah Carter wasn’t coming back, it was evident that Jamal was going to have to step up his scoring.”
And yet, Bey — and the Huskies — struggled early in the season.
Through the first eight games, Bey averaged just 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 24.2 minutes while shooting 38.5% from the field.
Rice had seen this before.
During Bey’s sophomore and junior seasons at Bishop Gorman, he took a backseat behind Zach Collins and Charles O’Bannon Jr. before a sensational senior year in which he led the Gaels to a 29-4 record and a seventh straight state championship while averaging 22.1 points and winning the Gatorade player of the year award in Nevada.
For weeks, Rice has been pleading with Bey that he needs to be more assertive on offense and could no longer average fewer than five shots like he did in the first eight games.
“We were like, ‘Hey Jamal. It’s time. You’ve got to go score for the team. This is not you going out scoring to get yours and to be selfish. This is actually what a leader does. That’s what the team needs from you right now,’ ” Rice said. “It’s been nice to see that in the last (five to six) games and I’m expecting that to continue the rest of the year.”
In the past six games, Bey is averaging 15.3 points while shooting 58.9% on field goals and 52% percent behind the arc. He’s also averaging 9.3 shots per game.
“You have a guy who can score on all three levels,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “He’s finishing way better than he ever has and taking the ball to the basket. He’s a really good foul shooter so that’s a good thing. We’ve been posting him up. He’s got a really good mid-range shot and he’s been shooting just unbelievable from the three-point line.”
The Huskies, who started 1-11, have undergone a midseason resurgence thanks in large part to scoring leader Quade Green’s maturation and the offensive emergence of Bey and Erik Stevenson, who is averaging 17.8 points in the past five games.
“Everybody comes out of their shell at a certain period,” Hopkins said. “With Jamal you’ve seen the potential and you’ve just got to keep having those nights.”
Heading into Sunday’s 5 p.m. game against Washington State (9-7, 2-7 Pac-12), Bey acknowledged the need to continue his hot streak if Washington (3-11, 2-7) is going to extend its winning streak to three in a row.
Still, Bey doesn’t believe he needs to alter his approach.
“There’s a few more plays called for me,” he said last Sunday. “I come in the same way. I try to affect the defensive side more usually.
“If I have an open shot, I’m going to shoot it. If I have a drive, I’m going to drive. If someone is open I’m going to kick it. That’s how I play and that’s how I’m always going to play.”
Again, in most cases coaches yearn for selfless players, and Hopkins constantly preaches to his team about making the extra pass.
However, the Huskies would do well to create more shots on the perimeter for Bey, who leads the Pac-12 with 51.5% on three-point shooting while ranking 44th in the league and fifth among UW players with just 33 attempts behind the arc.
“It’s confidence,” sophomore guard Marcus Tsohonis said. “I tell Jamal to play with confidence. Sometimes he’ll go out there and he knows he can do all the things that he’s been showing, but it’s more of a confidence thing that I feel like I can boost in him. And he’s showing it.”
Aside from the scoring, Hopkins is encouraged that Bey, one of two holdovers from UW’s 27-8 team in 2018-19 that won the Pac-12 regular-season title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, is asserting his authority lately.
“He’s starting to really become a great leader,” Hopkins said. “There was a possession and he’s just high-fiving his teammates saying, ‘Let’s go, we’ve got to get these stops. We’ve got to get this stop.’ You could see the excitement in each player.
“The leadership and commitment and giving my energy to somebody else is what I’ve really seen him grow with in the last four to five games.”
No one expects Bey to score 28 points every game for the rest of the season, but Washington can’t afford for him to disappear and score fewer than 10 like he’s done nine times this season.
“This has been a wake-up call for him,” Rice said. “Not to speak for the coaches, but this team needs him to score. They need him to be a leader.
“They’re going to be more successful if Jamal is scoring and scoring in the right way. I definitely think he can continue doing what he’s doing now. He’s not going to have 28 points every game, but I think he can easily average 15 to 20 points and with that you’re going to see more success from Washington.”