by Lee Noles
MONROE – The 3-pointer is a shot that can be viewed as a blessing or a curse for basketball teams. On one hand, it is a great equalizer – the offensive weapon that could lift a program to a championship. On the other side, however, when it isn’t falling, it can potentially spell the end of a title run.
Right now, the Forest Hills High boys’ basketball team is feeling blessed the shot is an option.
The Yellow Jackets are averaging just over 10 made 3-pointers a game, contributing to Forest Hills sitting at the top of the Rocky River Conference at 5-0 and 17-2 overall, as of Jan. 29. The 3-pointers have also helped the program climb as high as No. 1 in the state 2A ranking, according to polls released by maxpreps.com.
“It’s not just important part for us, but how the game is played today,” said coach Matt Sides, whose team is fourth in the state. “But it is important for us in terms of spacing the floor. … I think we try to get into the paint as much as possible, and then look for the kick out for the open shot, and the 3-point shot is a by-product of that.”
The success from the 3-point line came because of Forest Hills’ ability to pass the ball. The Yellow Jackets are averaging just over 17 assists per game this year with senior guard Jaleel McLaughlin leading the team at 4.9 per game. Nas Tyson, a junior, ranks second at 4.4 per game.
“I just try to find the open player on the court,” McLaughlin said. “I have a lot of capable guys who can shoot, and they can hit the open shot, but also do it with a hand in their face, as well.”
Just as important as getting the pass to the right spot is making sure they finish once it’s there. Forest Hills is doing just that by hitting 40 percent this season from the 3-point line. To put the program’s shooting in perspective, most teams in the NBA are making between the mid-to-high 30 percent of their 3-pointers, according to stats.nba.com.
The ability to hit the 3-pointer has helped the Jackets lead the county in scoring at 71.1 points per game. The next closest is Piedmont, which is averaging 60.5 per game. In addition, Forest Hills’ average margin of victory this season is over 22 points per game.
Tyson is one Jacket who has proven his worth from the 3-point line. Not only does he lead the team in scoring (16.7 per game), he tops Forest Hills in 3-point shooting at 45 percent. Jai Rorie, a junior, is second on the team in three-point shooting (45 percent) and scoring at 15.3 per game.
“We don’t rely on one person to score the ball,” said Tyson, who has been offered by Division 1 Hampton University. “We have a lot of people who can score, and we just try to find the hot hand at that time.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing this year for the Jackets. Weaknesses were exposed during a 68-50 loss to Concord First Assembly Academy on Jan. 15. Sides said First Assembly had a front line, which ranged from 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8. The taller players from First Assembly regularly contested the Jackets’ outside shooting. When there was a miss, the height allowed for grabbing long rebounds and making outlet passes on fast breaks.
“I don’t want to say it was a good loss, but it was a good game to see what we needed to work on,” Sides said. “As a coaching staff, we saw some things we needed to help the players get better at.”
The loss not only ended a 10-game winning streak, it also had Sides wanting to put more of an emphasis on the inside play for Forest Hills. Jamylan Blakeney, a 6-foot-7 freshman, averages 6.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Trey Belin, a junior forward, averages 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a contest.
“Those guys inside have been important to us and they have given us a presence,” Sides said. “We don’t want to be a one-dimensional team.”
The loss against First Assembly also knocked the Jackets out of their No. 1 ranking. But Forest Hills isn’t concerned about where they are in the middle part of their season, they are more concerned about where they will be at the end.
“Those polls are great, but we don’t pay any attention to that,” Sides said. “I didn’t know we were No. 1 or that we are No. 4. What I want our motivation to be is to get better each game, and hopefully we can’t get better as we go down the road.”