McNeace changing his playing style
Oklahoma’s Jamuni McNeace is trying to add more physicality to his game this season. The junior center blocked six shots in Sunday’s win against Nebraska-Omaha and showed he can become more of a power player for the Sooners.
NORMAN — Oklahoma assistant basketball coach Chris Crutchfield is trying to change the way the Sooners’ junior center Jamuni McNeace plays.
“Crutch doesn’t like me being the finesse player,” McNeace said. “He wants me to be a power player, just go over the top of people.”
McNeace showed some of that power in Sunday’s season-opening win over Omaha, moving toward the bucket late in the first half and soaring over the Mavericks’ Lamar Wofford-Humph to finish off a lob from Brady Manek.
Five minutes or so before that, he’d leapt over Omaha’s Daniel Norl for a dunk off the feed from Jordan Shepherd.
He showed it again on block after block.
McNeace also showed plenty of finesse, once again leaning on the hook shot that made up much of his offensive game a year ago.
If what McNeace showed in the season opener becomes a regularity, the Sooners’ play in the post figures to take a big step forward, and McNeace’s buzz among NBA scouts could grow.
“It’s crazy because I’ve seen him do some crazy things in practice when it comes to athleticism, dunking, and stuff like that,” teammate Trae Young said. “I don’t even think he realizes how athletic he is and how good he can really be. Once he gets that to 100 percent, it’s scary how good and can be.”
In the win over Omaha, McNeace tied a careerhigh with 14 points, doubled a career-high with six blocks and added five rebounds in 24 minutes, his court-time boosted by the foul trouble that starter Khadeem Lattin experienced early in each half.
“He seems more and more comfortable each week, month,” Sooners head coach Lon Kruger said. “He’s made progress. I thought (Sunday), both defensively and offensively, he had a huge impact on the game — blocking shots, changing shots, and of course scoring on the offensive end. So I think he has a better understanding all the time of how he can impact the game and how effective he can be.”
McNeace didn’t start playing basketball until he was in high school, so he’s still learning nuances about the game and how to make his 6-foot-10 frame work to its greatest advantage.
Foul trouble at times held him back a season ago and continues to be a concern, though McNeace flashed much better defensive awareness against Omaha.
Kruger’s defense features plenty of switching, and he wasn’t afraid to get McNeace involved in that, even on the perimeter.
McNeace proved that could work on his final block of the day, guarding KJ Robinson on the perimeter and then swatting Robinson’s long jumper away.
“He’s so active,” Kruger said. “It’s kind of a combination of just his size, his explosiveness as it relates to power but also his activity and agility when he goes out on the wing.”
Kruger said McNeace being able to guard on the perimeter makes life difficult for opposing offenses.
“Makes it tough for them to get shots off,” Kruger said.
But he’s also listening to Crutchfield plenty.
“I’ll take that,” McNeace said. “He just wants me to be athletic out there.”
Oklahoma junior center Jamuni McNeace is working to add physicality into his game this season.