Funky and fantastic

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Everyone on Northwestern has their own way of describing sophomore John Shurna's unique shooting style.

Wildcats junior Michael Thompson said, "It's more like a push-shot. It starts low, and he kind of pushes it like he was 7 or 8 years old. It's kind of weird."

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said, "It's a little funky."

Northwestern sophomore Nick Fruendt said, "It is different because it is out in front of his body."

Sophomore Luka Mirkovic used the widest range of adjectives. Mirkovic said, "Funky, strange, weird, that's about it. But I would also describe it as effective, deadly, lethal. Funky, but lethal. What about that? Is that good?"

Shurna, one of the Big Ten's best 3-point shooters, has heard them all.

Ever since he was young, Shurna has been shooting pretty much the same way. The ball starts at his waist. He quickly brings it up above his head and slightly away from his face. When it's just above his head, he jumps. As his body is rising, his head snaps back almost as if he's looking at the ceiling, his left arm leaves the ball, and the ball is pushed forward off his right hand. With each shot, he follows through, and his hand stays bent toward the floor until he's done watching the ball.

The oddity of the shot comes from his head moving back and his right arm being in front of his face and continuing to move forward. It appears as his body is fighting to go in different directions.

"It's very unorthodox," Shurna said. "I think it kind of started out when I was young just practicing, and I was making them, I guess. No one ever taught me. It was probably since I was just messing around, everyone thought, 'He'll probably get better form as he gets older.' But it never got better."


When 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: WGN-AM 720

What you need to know: Northwestern cleared a major hurdle by defeating Minnesota in overtime on Sunday. Penn State should be an easier foe, but the game is just as important. For the Wildcats to guarantee an NCAA ticket before the Big Ten Tournament, they likely need to win their remaining five conference games. John Shurna and Drew Crawford came up big against Minnesota, combining for 40 of Northwestern's 77 points.

Scott Powers' prediction: Northwestern 64, Penn State 55

Shurna has tinkered with his style over the years, but he's always ended up back to where it began.

"I was kind of making it with the bad form, so [my coaches] just say stick with it," Shurna said. "If it goes in, it doesn't matter."

His shots do fall. In Big Ten play through 13 games, he ranks first with 40 3-pointers made and sixth with a .412 3-point shooting percentage.

On Sunday in Northwestern's overtime win over Minnesota, Shurna especially displayed his long-range ability. He started out slow, but he picked it up as the game went on and ended up sinking 6-of-13 3-point attempts.

"Once he catches fire, it goes in," Fruendt said.

Ultimately, that is all that matters to Carmody.

"What I noticed was it was going in," said Carmody of the first time he saw Shurna's shot. "That was it. It's a really quick release, but he does all the right things. He gets his hand under the ball, he snaps his wrists, he follows through. It somehow is in front of his face a little bit, but all of the things you worry about, you don't have anything to worry about there."

When Shurna first arrived at Northwestern, Thompson and others would kid him about his form. That has since minimized as his shot has added up to more and more points for the Wildcats, but Shurna is fine with it either way.

"I probably don't look like a basketball player, and my shot probably doesn't help me, but I've learned to cope with it," said Shurna with a smile. "It's fun."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.