Paul Westhead uses it to force a helter-skelter tempo at 20th-ranked Loyola Marymount. He practically gives up two points at one end to get an opportunity for three for long-distance shooters Bo Kimble, the nation's leading scorer, and Jeff Fryer. "Our guys have to sprint to designated spots on the court, and four of those are in the three-point area," Westhead says. "If the ball is passed to someone in those spots, he has the absolute green light to shoot."
The most surprising trend concerning the trey may be found in the fast break; more and more teams are looking to pull up rather than drive to the basket. "When you think about it, the three-pointer affects the game more than the dunk because of the extra point," says Duke guard Phil Henderson. "Smart fans should get more excited about that." Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan has chosen to enter the three-point contest the night before this Sunday's NBA All-Star Game rather than go after his third slam-dunk title.
Suddenly, the ability to shoot, a trait that for a time seemed to rank third behind quickness and power, has become a much valued commodity. Kansas, a team noticeably short of rim-rattlers, has vaulted to No. 2 in the polls with a cast of long-range shooters. The Jayhawks fire the three frequently (15.4 attempts a game) and effectively (45.9%, third in the nation), spreading the floor for their exquisite backdoor cuts. When Williams really wants a three-for-all, he summons 6'1" reserve Terry Brown, a junior college transfer who cocks the ball behind his right shoulder in a manner only a chiropractor could love. Brown's first 11 field goals as a Jayhawk were treys, and he is sinking almost half his attempts from beyond the arc. At Allen Fieldhouse, students hand out Xeroxed $3 bills with Brown's photo in the middle. They read: IN TERRY WE TRUST.
Brown is one of a wide range of specialists who can almost instantly turn a game inside out. Indeed, the three has also brought new life to those sun-starved, often short and awkward creatures who once spent hour after hour firing jump shots in an empty gym. Before the trey, this species—known variously as the suburban kid, the small-town kid, the backyard kid or, more broadly, the gym rat—could be found on the end of college benches, waving towels and reminding us that, yes, hard work could earn you a letter jacket. Nice pets to sic on the occasional zone, but not really, well, players.
Now one of them can mean instant offense. Consider Ohio University's Dave Jamerson, a not particularly quick 6'4" senior guard from Stow, Ohio, who averaged 19 points last season. Now he's second in the nation in scoring (32.7), thanks to the three and an offense designed to let him rapid-fire it. He pumped in 60 points against Charleston on Dec. 21, converting an NCAA record 14 treys (in 17 attempts). "The art of shooting had kind of gone astray, but you see it coming back now," Jamerson says. "It's all footwork, timing and the quick release, and a lot of that is practice. Along with playing in the summer, I shoot an hour or two a day. When you shoot that many shots, it gets a lot easier."
A more extreme case is 6'4", 152-pound stick figure Travis Bice, a sophomore at UNLV who leads the Big West Conference in three-point percentage at 51.1%. Bice is a walk-on out of Simi Valley (Calif.) High who spent his first season at Vegas on the scout team and his second as a redshirt. At times he looks like a Yugo on a court full of Porsches, but his ability to shoot the three has earned him a scholarship and some rare attention. In the preseason NIT, California went into a box-and-one to stop Bice after he had made four straight treys over 2:15 in a 101-81 UNLV win. "The last time I saw a box-and-one was in the eighth grade," Bice says.
On the other end of the scale is Georgia Tech's multi-talented junior, Dennis Scott. The three was hurting his career. For his first two seasons at Georgia Tech, the 6'8" Scott seemed to have an equal affinity for both the arc and the golden arches of McDonald's. He was an overweight underachiever, content to stay on the perimeter. As a result, his stock dropped badly with pro scouts.
Still a deadly gunner, Scott has slimmed down by 20 pounds to 221 this season, and is using the three to complement his game rather than to consume it. His scoring average has jumped from 20.3 in 1988-89 to 28.8. "I can shoot from a distance, but I'm showing this year I can post up," Scott says. "The whole picture is mixed up as far as the defensive players are concerned. Nobody knows what I'll do next."
There's no such mystery at Southwestern Louisiana. The Ragin' Cajuns' top triple threat is 6'4" senior Sydney Grider, who has a familial connection to trick shots. His father, Josh, was a Harlem Globetrotter in the '50s. (It should be noted that Trotter owner Abe Saperstein originated the three-pointer in 1961, when he founded the American Basketball League. Saperstein, 5'3", wanted to put the little man back in the game, so he awarded an extra point for shots made from beyond a 25-foot stripe.) Says Grider, "When the NCAA put in that line, it was like rewarding me for the range I have. But like my coach says, my own three-point line is closer to the NBA's [23'9"] than the NCAA's."
Coaches who once viewed three-point specialists with the disdain linebackers hold for field goal kickers are hungry to sign them up. "It used to be that you would look for a point guard, a big guy, et cetera," Olson says. "Now you're always on the lookout for that one pure shooter."