He’s the most accurate 3-point shooter in college basketball history. Still, even today, Steve Kerr isn’t satisfied.
Time and time again for nearly 25 years, Kerr has received praise for making a record 57.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc for Arizona’s 1987-88 Final Four squad. Deep down, though, Kerr is peeved that he didn’t perform even better.
If only it wasn’t for that blasted game against Oklahoma.
“It’s the only game I played that I still think about from time to time,” Kerr said of the Wildcats‘ national semifinal loss to the Sooners in Kansas City. “What happened that night still bothers me.”
Kerr entered the contest shooting an eye-popping 59.9 percent (112-for-187) on the season before making just two of his 12 3-point attempts in what ended up being his final college game.
“I can’t help but that think, if I’d shot my normal percentage, we’d have won the game and gone on to win the championship two nights later,” Kerr said. “I guess you remember your failures more than your successes.”
Kerr may not have fared well against Oklahoma, but his college career is remembered as anything but a letdown. His single-season record for players with at least 100 “makes” has stood for more than two decades.
Even more impressive about Kerr’s mark is that it came in his first and only college season of playing with a 3-point line. In other words, Kerr is among a handful of former stars who can say he played in both the pre- and post-3-point eras.
Kerr said he still remembers his reaction upon learning that colleges would begin using the 3-pointer in 1986-87.
“There was a lot of buzz about it,” Kerr said. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m going to get all these open shots and I’m going to get three points for them?’ Most of my shots came from out there anyway.”
Kerr injured his knee while playing for the USA Basketball team in the summer of 1986, so he spent the first season of the collegiate 3-pointer on the bench. When he returned a year later for his senior season, Kerr routinely made three or four shots from beyond the arc per contest.
Although he credits teammates such as Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert for drawing the double-teams that often left him wide open, Kerr said he spent a considerable chunk of time after each practice working on his long-range shooting.
He wasn’t alone.
“You can do the math pretty easily,” Kerr said. “If you make 33 percent of your 3s it’s as many points as making 50 percent of your 2s. Everyone was very aware of it, so people would make a conscious effort after each practice to step out there and see how they'd do.
“I think there was a feeling-out process. I don’t remember specifically changing anything offensively at Arizona. We just had a lot of players taking a lot more shots. I think it took college coaches a few years to adjust.”
By then Kerr was in the NBA, where he won three championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls, as well as two with the San Antonio Spurs. Kerr retired after the 2002-03 season with a career percentage of .454 from beyond the arc, making him the most accurate shooter in NBA history.
As beneficial as the 3-pointer was to his career, he said it can be a detriment to others.
“For a long time, guys were just firing away from out there that weren’t great shooters,” Kerr said. “It doesn’t make for great basketball if everyone is just jacking up 3s trying to even up the odds. I’d like to see it used efficiently and with a purpose. There are a lot of guys shooting it that shouldn’t be. It can definitely get out of hand.”
A number of basketball purists objected three years ago when the NCAA moved the 3-point line back one foot to 20 feet, 9 inches.
Kerr wasn’t one of them.
“It should be a difficult shot,” he said. “There’s no reason to count it for three points if everyone on the court can make it.”