Every division one athlete works hard. In order to reach that level, there has to be an abnormal drive that helps one achieve that sort of success. But sometimes, regardless of the time and energy spent on one’s craft, a point is reached where an athlete wants to take their game to yet another level.
Through Syracuse basketball’s first six games, junior guard/forward Michael Gbinije was struggling. Despite praise from head coach Jim Boeheim prior to the start of the 2014-15 season and discussions of a significantly expanded role, Gbinije seemed to be lost.
Rather than taking advantage of his new responsibilities, he was failing to perform. Gbinije was averaging a mere six points per game while shooting 34% from the field and 13% from beyond the three-point arc.
Instead of wallowing in self pity, Gbinije chose to do something about it. He went to work. Not just the base level required of all division one athletes, but a higher degree of effort in order to enhance his game. To be ready when game day arrived and give the Orange the production they so desperately need.
”A different mindset and better work ethic,” Gbinije said. “Some stuff going on behind the scenes has started to payoff for me. I like the guys that I play with and I’m just trying to win as much as I can.”
Gbinije is shooting 60% from the floor over the last six games
”My shooting,” Gbinije said. “I do a lot of ball handling and things like that with G-Mac. Coach Red and I shoot a lot. Some things that are just starting to payoff.”
Including the loss to Michigan, excluding the game against Louisiana Tech where a back injury limited him to just 14 minutes, Gbinije has averaged 15 points, five assists and six rebounds per game. He is shooting 60% from the floor and 47% from the outside.
”He’s been playing well,” Boeheim said. “He can play that good. He can play that good all the time. He’s making shots. He’s playing good basketball. He’s making shots. He’s more aggressive and looking to score.”
But it’s not just Gbinije’s improved scoring that has led to his drastically improved production on the floor. He has helped take some of the pressure off of true freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph with ball handling and playing the point a little bit.
A credit to his work with coach McNamara behind the scenes, Gbinije is becoming a strong distributor in addition to an accomplished scorer. In fact, he dished out a career high eight assists in Sunday’s win over Long Beach State.
”I broke the defense down a little bit,” Gbinije said. ”But at the same time, others stepped up. Rak (Rakeem Christmas) made himself available and easy to throw the ball. Trev (Trevor Cooney) moves well without the ball. So just stuff like that. Everybody being on the same page and just moving around.”
The improvement of Gbinije’s overall game is not something that has gone unnoticed amongst his teammates. Not just his scoring, but doing the little things. Like deflecting an in-bounds pass at the end of the first half against Long Beach State. That deflection pushed the ball towards Trevor Cooney, who scooped it up and shot a near half-court three pointer at the buzzer. The shot, of course, went in.
”Mike’s really talented,” junior guard Trevor Cooney said. “He’s a really good player and he’s showing it. He can do a lot of things, going off the dribble and making shots. When he’s aggressive, good things are going to happen for us.”
The goal for Gbinije now is to keep this streak going. Rather than have it be an impressive stretch, have this type of production be a consistent occurrence for the junior wing.
”The mindset now is just trying to stay competitive,” Gbinije said. “My approach to practice, really, is just to compete. If I can keep that mindset and people around me can keep that mindset, I think we’ll be fine.”