McNeace chang­ing his play­ing style

The Oklahoman - - SPORTS - Ryan Aber raber@ ok­la­homan.com STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

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.”

[PHOTO BY

Ok­la­homa ju­nior cen­ter Ja­muni McNeace is work­ing to add phys­i­cal­ity into his game this sea­son.

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