After nearly a week in the Caribbean, two discouraging losses in three games and little spare time, the Gophers were exhausted.
Many players pulled on oversized headphones almost immediately after boarding the charter flight home from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, just hours after swallowing a 13-point defeat to Texas Tech in the final game Nov. 22. They sank into pillows, dozing off for much-needed naps.
But Joey King couldn’t sleep. Instead, the senior forward downloaded the game tape onto his laptop, poring over every sequence for two hours.
And then he watched the film again.
“I just really wanted to look and see what was going on with our team,” King said. “Just try to figure out what was wrong.”
Analyzing film on his own is something King has adopted in the past two seasons, even more this year as he has increasingly become what is right about a youthful team still finding its way. The former Eastview standout is the Gophers’ leading scorer by a leap at 17.2 points per game and has become the team’s most consistent long-ball shooter and scoring presence, knocking down 57 percent of his three-pointers.
It’s a far cry from where King was when he joined his home-state school after transferring from Drake in 2013, becoming as known for his almost comical shot fake as his shot. King has increased his scoring production every season, with the greatest bump coming this season, after he averaged 9.7 points as a junior.
But the scrappy 6-9 gamer with short arms and limited athleticism is constantly searching for ways to improve his impact and expand his skills. He will be tested as the year goes on, as opponents look to limit his impact beyond the arc and frontcourts get bigger — starting with Clemson, which visits Williams Arena on Monday, two 6-10 centers and an effective low-post scoring forward in tow.
“If you guard him a certain way and let him get open, he’s going to hit a shot,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “I’m surprised when he misses an open shot. But now teams are going to adjust. … Joey is going to be a focal point when it comes to scouting. Well, then what do you do?”
With some teams — Texas Tech among them — switching defenders on ball screens, King at times has had less luck popping out to the perimeter off picks. Now, Pitino said, King has to roll into the paint and find ways to score at the rim, an aspect of his game he has struggled with over the years.
In Friday’s 93-90 victory over Nebraska Omaha, King hit all four of his three-point attempts. But a game earlier, King went just 1-for-5 from long range against Texas Tech, although he still scored 15 points with four baskets inside and four free throws.
“It’s almost become a habit over the last few years where it’s just pick-and-pop, pick-and-pop, pick-and-pop,” King said. “I’m trying to break the habit. Slowly but surely in practice, I’m working myself into a pick-and-roll guy sometimes.”
Pitino has lauded King’s dedication, calling him a “gym rat” and chuckling about how hard and physical he plays in practice, barreling into teammates even in walkthroughs. After a summer in which King “lived” at the Bierman Athletic Building, per Pitino, he has made a modest jump in rebounding and has tried to change strategies when he’s shot isn’t falling.
Outside of practice, though, the work isn’t done. King watches film, dissecting his weaknesses, making mental notes and trying to become a better leader and captain.
On the way back from Puerto Rico, King noticed the Gophers’ inability to move and share the ball well, an effort that resulted in just seven assists vs. Texas Tech. Once back in the gym Tuesday, the team immediately starting working on that shortcoming, with King one step ahead. The Gophers posted 21 assists to nine turnovers Friday.
“I want to be on the same page as the coaching staff, so I watch a lot of tape so I can kind of see where the coaches are coming from and I can have conversations with them about certain things,” King said. “I think that’s been really effective, especially with me and coach Pitino.”
Lately, King is reaping the benefits.