There's an old saying in baseball, one revealed by Jim Bouton in his seminal book Ball Four, which states: "Don't think so much -- you're hurting the ballclub." While that might, on the surface, tend to highlight the "dumb jock" stereotype, it's really nothing of the sort. It doesn't mean players don't have to think or approach the game in an intelligent manner. What it does impart, though, is the need to play freely -- to not analyze each move or step before its made. That can make players mechanical and much easier to defend, not to mention less explosive and effective.
If there were a poster guy for that at the start of the year, it was probably West Virginia center Elijah Macon. While the big man's talent is evident, it was tough at times to watch him struggle when he got the ball in the post or via an offensive rebound. In making a move to the hoop or in trying to shoot over or get by defenders, he'd often travel, commit a foul or put up an out of control shot that had little chance of going in. As the season has progressed, however, improvement in those areas has been evident.
Over the last three games, Macon has made 10 of his 15 shot attempts from the field while grabbing 13 rebounds. In two of those games he did not suffer a turnover. Overall, it's been the best three-game stretch of his career, and he credits the teaching of the coaches for helping him implement the "no thinking" policy in his game.
"The coaches have talked to me about not thinking so much and being comfortable, and just go and play," he said recently. "I'm just being myself. When I'm not thinking about the game I perform better. When I think about it it's hard for me to make certain moves. If I'm thinking about it it's too late. I just need to go out there and have fun."
Now, let's look at a reverse situation. By any reckoning, Jevon Carter has had an excellent freshman season. However, since being asked to run the team in the absence of Juwan Staten, his shooting percentage has dropped to 28%, and he set a season-high in turnovers with five against Baylor. Granted, he has the ball in his hands a lot more now, so the chances for more TOs are greater, but he has been a sure ballhandler throughout the season. His errors have been on passes that he typically completed while playing on the wing. Could overthinking be part of the issue?
"Maybe a little bit, but the last couple of games I have been in foul trouble in the first half, and I haven't had the chance to get my rhythm going," Carter said when analyzing his shooting mini-slump. "I don't think it's thinking too much. I just think it has been the foul trouble."
Still, it's clear that Carter knows he's getting more attention, and that could be having a bit of an effect on his play. He's trying to take a crash course in point guard play buy studying not only his play, but some of the nuances of the game that only come into play at the point.
"It's a lot tougher, because you have all five defenders watching you when you have the ball as opposed to being on the wing, where there's only your man and maybe a help line defender," he admitted. "[Watching film], I pay more attention to the little things. I meed to see where my teammates like the ball and how I give it to them."
Just like Macon, the more times Carter is in the same situation, the more relaxed he's likely to play. While the hurdles he has to overcome might not stem from overthinking, the end results he's striving for are the same that Macon wants. If the duo, and the rest of the Mountaineers, are able to play with that freedom against Baylor, they might find the path past the Bears and into the Big 12 Championship semifinals.