ATLANTA – With so many elite athletes who will be on the court Sunday when Kentucky and Baylor meet for a spot in the NCAA Final Four, it would be easy to overlook a 6-foot-2 Canadian named Brady Heslip.
Brady Heslip ranks No. 6 nationally in three-point field goal percentage. (Baylor University photo)
That would be a huge mistake.
“They've got a shooter that knocks it down, kind of like John Jenkins or Tyler McBee, guys that we've faced before,” UK coach John Calipari said. “If you give him an inch, he gets it all. He had 27 against Colorado, and I think he bounced the ball twice. I've never seen anything like that.”
Heslip, who ranks No. 6 nationally in three-point field goal percentage, has one of the quickest catch-and-release shots in the college game, and could be a wild card factor when third-seeded Baylor tries to take down top-seeded Kentucky at the Georgia Dome.
“Everyone knows he's a shooter. So all his life he's had to work on a quick release,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “From the standpoint he can get a shot off and doesn't need a lot of time, allows him to play at this level, and against these kinds of athletes.”
The fact that Heslip, who made 9-of-12 threes on the way to 27 points against Colorado in the NCAA’s third round last weekend, could be a huge factor isn’t something that happened by accident.
“I’ve always had a quick catch-and-release, maybe not as quick as I do now, but it’s something I’ve always worked hard at in the summer to get my shot off faster against more athletic guys,” said Heslip, who will make up to 800 jumpers a day in the offseason. “It comes with experience. You see the openings and know when you can get it off and when you can’t, what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot.”
While most shooters need to take a dribble to set their rhythm and ease into the their shooting motion, Heslip is rapid-fire.
“It comes with repetition, coming off screens in practice, setting your feet and getting your shot off,” he said. “It’s something you can do if you practice a lot.
“If you watch the guys in the NBA who can get their shot off really fast – Ray Allen or J.J. Reddick – they have their feet set and when the ball is there you’re ready to go up with it,” Heslip added. “I’ve had to defend guys like that, too, and you have to be on their hip. If you give them an inch of daylight, they’re going to get their shot off.”
Long-range bombs won’t be the only area Heslip could impact the South Region Elite Eight contest. If the game is tight in the closing seconds, UK will want to avoid putting a 95 percent shooter at the line.
“Foul shots are just about focus,” Heslip said. “People spend so many hours practicing free throws and getting your routine down. Then it comes down to blocking out all the distractions around you and just focusing on knocking down a freebie.”
While America’s elite players found their way to college via the AAU circuit, the Burlington, Ontario, Canada native took a far more obscure path. His father, who was an All-Canadian at University of Guelph, taught him to shoot at age 3.
“My goal was on the driveway, but I would play anyway where I can,” Heslip said. “I remember my dad working in Italy and I would there in the summer with my mom and we would find this place called ‘The Big Gym,’ and I would just play. She would drop me off in the morning and I’d play basketball until night. It was something I loved doing. It didn’t matter if I was by myself or in a 5-on-5 game, I could play all day.”
For now, Heslip is only worried about playing one more day as the Bears meet Kentucky. Heslip will be the skinny kid with the long hair, an appearance that belies his ability, not unlike another Canadian.
“Steve Nash is a great example,” Heslip said. “He’s got the long hair, but he’s so crafty. I’ve got so much respect for him, what he’s done for Canada and being the greatest player to ever come out of there.”