There's more to Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber than just trick shot
MINNEAPOLIS -- Blake Hoffarber was wearing diapers, barely able to walk, when he began to develop his outside shot.
That smooth left-handed stroke has been refined a bit since those days in his Minnesota basement, when he fired balls at a Fisher Price basket during breaks from watching Sesame Street. Now a promising freshman for his hometown Gophers, Hoffarber can really shoot it.
His shot was strong enough in 10th grade for that famous swish he made while sitting on the floor in a frantic sequence during the state championship game. Three years later, Hoffarber leads the Big Ten with a 49.4 percentage from 3-point range and has a great shot -- no pun intended -- to break Minnesota's single-season record of 78 made 3-pointers.
Entering Thursday night's game against ninth-ranked Indiana, Hoffarber is third on the Gophers with an average of 10.5 points. He went 10-for-15 from 3-point range in his last two games.
"Every time I shoot it, I feel like I can make it," Hoffarber said, confidently but not arrogantly.
Coach Tubby Smith has enough trust that he's used him with the starting group for several recent stretches and told him to shoot anytime he's open.
"He's a real heady player," Smith said. "He has a good understanding of not only when to shoot the ball, but when to pass. It's hard to teach. Obviously being the focal point of his high-school offense and focal point of opposing defenses, he learned to use his ability to get open and get the shot off quick."
Hoffarber became nationally known in 2005, when he won an ESPY award for best play of the year. His Hopkins High School team was trailing by three points with 2 seconds left in overtime of the Class 4A title game when Hoffarber fell during a fight for a loose ball.
It landed square in his hands, and -- sitting on his rear near the baseline -- he hurled a 3-pointer from the floor and tied the game. Hopkins won in double overtime.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hoffarber, who moved from point guard to shooting guard for his senior season, was heavily recruited by many major colleges including Louisville and Notre Dame. Still, people will always associate him with that head-turning play seen on so many highlight shows.
"I think sometimes the shot has overshadowed his ability to play," said Ken Novak Jr., Hoffarber's uncle and high-school coach.
Novak lamented Wednesday, four years after the fact, that mononucleosis kept Hoffarber out of the state playoffs as a freshman and wondered if he could've had three titles instead of two. As a senior, Hoffarber led Hopkins in assists, rebounds -- and even taking charges. He shot a staggering 63 percent from the field. So Novak, though biased, said he expected his nephew to have immediate success with the Gophers.
Another freshman, Al Nolen Jr., has also made an impact as a reserve for Minnesota (12-3, 2-1). He leads the conference in steals and -- with Hoffarber -- has helped former coach Dan Monson's performance look a little better. Monson went 36-60 in the Big Ten over seven years, but his last recruiting class was arguably his best.
"We wanted to try to contribute to the team as much as possible, because that's what they brought us in for," Nolen said. "I was going to be excited to play for Monson and help out the team, but when they brought in a legend like Tubby Smith, it just lit another fire under me to want to come in and perform."
Rick Rickert in 2001-02 and Kris Humphries in 2003-04 were the last high-profile freshmen who came to the Gophers, Minnesota natives who were immediate starters and clear offensive focal points of their teams. Like Hoffarber, they weren't shy about shooting, but the difference so far is that they weren't apt to share the ball, either.
Hoffarber's high-school and college coaches have each remarked about his passing ability and appreciation of the chemistry that must take place on the court.
"Somebody has to pass him the ball, and I think he understands that. It takes teamwork to distribute the ball in a position where he can shoot it," Smith said.
Whether sitting on the floor or standing straight up.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index