Missouri freshman forward Kevin Puryear gets irritated when sophomore guard Namon Wright passes up open looks in practice.
“I wouldn’t say I’m hard on Namon, but every time he doesn’t shoot the ball, he definitely hears from me,” Puryear said. “When he doesn’t shoot the ball, I’m like, ‘Man, you can make that shot. Shoot the ball.’ I believe in him.”
Trouble was, for a while this season, Wright didn’t believe in himself.
As a freshman, Wright shot 38.8 percent from three-point range, which is tied for the third-best mark by a freshman in program history. Only Brian Grawer, who shot 45.6 percent in 1997-98, and Kareem Rush, who shot 42.6 percent in 1999-2000, have ever performed better as freshman from beyond the arc.
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Wright opened his sophomore season by going 3 of 4 from long range and scoring 18 off the bench against Wofford, but things took a nose dive from there.
Through the next 23 games, Wright shot 20 of 86 from three-point range, an icy 23.3 percent, his confidence diminishing during the protracted struggles.
“When you don’t see it go in as much as you’re used to seeing it go in, there’s a little bit of doubt sometimes,” Puryear said. “That’s uncharacteristic of Namon, because he’s a really confident guy.”
That’s why Puryear has been known to bark in Wright’s direction.
“I think just knowing that people believe in him, and him knowing that we have faith in him, definitely helped his confidence out a lot,” Puryear said.
It may finally be working, too.
Wright has connected on at least two threes in each of the last four games and is shooting 13 of 23, an eye-popping 56.5 percent, from long range during that span.
He went 6 of 7 from distance Tuesday at Mississippi, setting a career-high for made three-pointers and season-high for three-point attempts.
“It feels good to see the ball go in the net from behind the arc for me personally, because of how bad I’ve been shooting this year,” Wright said. “In practice, I shoot great. I get in the gym and I know I’m a great shooter, but I have to be consistent and stay mentally focused.”
If there’s a bright side, it’s that Wright’s shooting woes forced him to expand his game. He only attempted 18 free throws as a freshman, but Wright’s been to the line 107 times this season (and shoots 77.6 percent when he gets there).
“When he was struggling shooting, he took the ball to the basket,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I think he discovered something — that he could take the ball to the basket. He’s done a pretty good job of that. … Namon’s a better basketball player than he was a year ago. A year ago, he was only a shooter.”
Now, Wright leads Missouri in rebounding at 5.1 per game and has improved from a 0.51 assist-to-turnover ratio last season to 0.76 this season.
“He needs to be better defensively,” Anderson said. “He needs to be better as a ball-handler. He has a tendency to dribble too high, but he’s improved a lot.”
Factor in a rediscovered shooting touch and the future looks bright for Wright.
“I can tell his confidence is through the roof right now,” Puryear said. “To see him shooting it the way he’s shooting it is what I expect from him, so I’m glad that he’s finally getting into his groove.”
It’s much-needed, too. Three-point shooting has been an Achilles’ heel for Missouri, which shoots 30.4 percent from three-point range and ranks 326th among 351 NCAA Division I teams.
Only Kansas State — 337th at 29.2 percent — is worse among Power Five conference teams.
“Hopefully, his confidence keeps growing the next few games and into next year,” senior forward Ryan Rosburg said.