This has been a special season for Fletcher Magee and his Wofford teammates.
Magee — who on Wednesday earned his second Southern Conference Player of the Year award — passed Stephen Curry in January to become the SoCon’s all-time 3-point leader, and he zipped past JJ Redick in February to move to the No. 2 spot on the all-time NCAA Division I leaderboard. With three 3-pointers in Wofford’s NCAA Tournament opener, Magee would pass Oakland’s Travis Bader to become the NCAA Division I all-time leader in 3-pointers made.
And the Terriers? With Magee leading the club in scoring at 20.5 per contest, Wofford completed a perfect SoCon season — 18-0 in the regular slate, 3-0 in the tournament — to lock up a bid in the NCAA Tournament. They likely would have been in as an at-large anyway, but the win over UNCG on Monday night in the title game removed all doubt.
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Magee had 20 points in that one. Even though he had an off night from the field, he went 8 of 9 on free-throw attempts — he’s shooting 90.7 percent from the charity stripe for the second consecutive season — to help the Terriers win.
I spent behind-the-scenes time with Wofford in November, before the Terriers’ season-opening contest at home against blueblood North Carolina, and had a long chat with Magee about what he learned from his experience as an early entry candidate for the NBA Draft last offseason, his development as a shooter and his uncanny knack for knocking down off-balance long-range attempts.
Sporting News: Let’s talk about your shots. There are times that it looks like you’re not even looking at the rim when you jump. I mean, you’re looking the other way. Have you always done that?
Fletcher Magee: (laughs) No. Really, there’s a progression. I think you have to be able to catch and shoot, just shoot normal style. And then once you can do that, start to focus on being better off the dribble. And then after I felt like I was better off the dribble, I started shooting more off-balance shots. And then I was in my driveway, and I was thinking, ‘Is there a shot that I can make that’s, like, unguardable?’ With my height and everything, it’s hard to do.
I just thought about, if I was coming to my right, and if I jumped facing the other way and turned towards the rim, and the defender’s on my left side, he can’t get to the shot. So I just tried to practice that shot as much as I could and, you know, it’s not the highest percentage shot, but if you practice it enough, you can make it an efficient enough rate.
SN: Sure. So, with that shot, what’s the key for you? Normally guys are getting their shoulders square, feet balanced, elbow lined up … what are you thinking about when you’re taking that shot?
FM: By the time I shoot, I try to have my body square, and if I don’t, I shoot it a little bit to the left and just know that my momentum going to my right is going to take it back a bit. It sounds really technical, but I guess I kind of do it without really noticing.
SN: At what point did you start to feel confident to do that in games? High school?
FM: Nah, it wasn’t until college. I saw that we ran pin-downs coming off screens, and I didn’t do it that much in high school. So I just worked on coming off that stuff all offseason before college. And then by my freshman year, I started shooting off-balance. It just kind of came to me. Sometimes in the games, I just don’t realize how crazy or how off-balance it looks. It feels like it’s kind of a normal shot.
SN: I was going to ask you if you ever watch a highlight, or watch when you guys are going through films, and think, ‘Really?!’
FM: (laughs) Yeah, I’ll see a shot and I’ll realize why my teammates are mad at me for shooting it, but when I shot it, I thought that it seemed normal.
Let’s pause here for a couple words from Cameron Jackson, a Wofford senior who has seen Magee’s brand of shot-making magic as much or more than anyone the past few years.
SN: Tell me about Fletcher.
CAMERON JACKSON: He’s incredible. He’s probably the hardest-working guy I know on the court. It seems like it’d be frustrating, sometimes, the shots that he takes, but if you come in here and watch what he does, he doesn’t shoot a shot he doesn’t practice, so you can’t really be that mad at him. He’s too meticulous with his craft. I’ve never played with a player like him. I don’t know that I ever will again, so it’s been really cool to play with a shooter like him.
SN: Why does his shot work? When he’s touching the ball, jumping and shooting, it’s like his feet are this way and the basket is the other way. Why does it work?
CJ: Man, if I knew, I’d be shooting like that, too! I don’t know. I think it works because he’s worked it. He came in as a freshman — I remember being a sophomore, kind of thinking I was coming into my own before I got hurt — and, like, the first couple times he shot the ball, I was like, ‘What are you doing?!’ Then he made one, then he made another one, and now it’s just like, playing with him for four years, I’m still in awe sometimes at the shots he takes, even now.
OK, now back to Magee. …
SN ALL-ACCESS: Behind the scenes as Wofford preps for UNC
SN: You tested the NBA Draft waters in the offseason, worked out with a couple teams, but was the plan always to get evaluated, then come back to Wofford?
FM: Yeah. I wanted to see where I stood and how I felt. You know, when I was going there, I was trying to impress them to where they were, like, ‘We’re thinking about looking at you this year.’ But I looked at pre-drafts and stuff, and I didn’t see myself on ’em, so I knew if there was only a slight chance I was going to get drafted late in the second round, I wanted to come back and get to the NCAA Tournament. That’s always been one of the goals I’ve had.
SN: Where did you go?
FM: I worked out for the Lakers, Celtics and Hornets.
SN: That’s cool. Did they just run you through practices? How were they set up?
FM: So, there’s six guys there that they’re thinking about, that they’re interested in. Some of them are early entries, like me, and some of them are seniors that’ll have to go, and you just do shooting drills, play one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three, they just kind of evaluate you. They do a lot of testing to measure your height, span, and all that kind of stuff.
SN: And what did you check in with?
FM: I was, 6-3, with an outreach of 6-4, so I just hit my number, barely.
SN: Were you happy with the feedback you got?
FM: Yeah. Some of it, I mean, I expected it just from evaluating myself. I think I learned some good tips and stuff about how to be better, like making reads off ball screens, and playing more physical with bigger defenders and trying to learn how to use your body against them, because the NBA switches a lot. So I just got some of that stuff that I’ve tried to work on and put in my game and improve on them, but I still have a long way to go. So we’ll see how it all works out.
SN: Do you watch another guy in the league, or another college guy that you think you see yourself in?
FM: I watch JJ Redick a lot. The way he moves without the ball is amazing. Just like his physicality off the ball and getting people’s hands off of him and just reading screens, like bumping, fading, curling, shot-faking if they get too close, that kind of stuff. I think he does as good a job as anyone at that, so I like to watch him.
SN: How do you evaluate yourself? Do you evaluate yourself after a game? Do you watch film, do you look at stats? Or do you even do that on a game-to-game basis?
FM: Yeah, I’ll evaluate myself. Last year, when I was shooting crazy numbers at the beginning of the year, I tried to stay in that mindset, but I knew water is going to find its level at some point. I was probably going to struggle at some point, I didn’t expect myself to shoot 57 percent from 3 or whatever. But you always have to stay on yourself and keep pushing. I feel like you’ve got to find the balance of being hard on yourself and continuing to work out your flaws and still watching film and taking care of your body and maybe resting your legs, which may help you with your shot.
Freshman year, I probably only shot all the time. I just figured shooting, shooting, shooting was going to help me. Now I feel like I need to get a ton of game shots up, but sometimes I might need to take care of my body more or watch film and see how I can get an easier shot instead of trying to make a harder shot. That kind of stuff.
SN: I’ve heard (coach Mike Young) say, “A better screen gets you a better shot.”
FM: Yeah, like set up better screens, being more physical off the ball, give my guy a little bump before I come off the screen, that kind of stuff. You can be mad that you missed a hard kind of shot but if you watch film and you realize you could’ve done something to get an easier shot, that can help you just as much.
SN: That’s something Reddick did so well, created that tiny bit.
FM: Yeah. He was amazing at that, the nudge just to give himself room.
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