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Jan. 22, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor

It’s easy to mistake Iman Shumpert for a brash, me-first kid.

That would be a huge mistake.

Even though Shumpert isn’t shy about being loud and displaying emotion, or putting up a shot (he’s second in shots per game), and he even wears No. 1, there’s an explanation for each.

He’s loud because he loves the game, he also leads the team in assists, and he wears the No. 1 because he’s always wanted to play the point (the No. 1 position on chalk boards) and Georgia Tech is the first place he’s played that gave it out.

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Hewitt certainly is okay with Shumpert.

“Obviously [forward Gani Lawal], right now statistically is our best player, but the guy that really has the biggest game is probably Iman.”

Those are big words from the coach of a team that is doing big things — Tech is 14-4, with back-to-back-to-back wins over higher ranked Duke, North Carolina and Clemson, Words that big would inflate a larger ego out of proportion.

Not so with Shumpert.

He’d rather deflect the credit to his teammates. These days, deflecting is what the Oak Park, Ill., native and Oak Park-River Forest High School graduate does best.

“He calls himself “The Deflection King” because he’s getting in lanes, he’s stealing passes, getting the easy baskets,” said Lawal. “Iman is big-time on defense.”

So much of the focus of Georgia Tech’s victory over North Carolina last Saturday, was on Shumpert’s career-high 30 points and rightfully so. But Hewitt was more jazzed by a different, less easily identifiable and certainly less glorious stat.

“We chart deflections every game and the other day he had 14 deflections,” said Hewitt. “He’s getting a deflection like every three-and-a-half minutes, which is unbelievable. If you get one deflection every five minutes that is good. He’s getting a deflection every three-and-a-half minutes. On the defensive end of the floor he has a great impact.”

He’s proud of his defense, a facet of the game considered a necessary evil by some.

Of course, Hewitt couldn’t dismiss the big 3-0.

“On the offensive end of the floor, especially the way he played, I’m not expecting him to get 30 points every night. It would be nice if he did,” he said with a laugh. “But he has a chance to have a big impact in how everybody else is playing.”

Since sitting out six games with a knee injury, Shumpert is doing just that. He’s starting to feel it again with his shot and his entire game.

“I don’t want to say he was trying to be too spectacular but he was trying to make THE play all the time instead of being aggressive, using his physical skills, then making good basketball decisions after that,” said Hewitt.

“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “My planting, my decision-making, getting my rhythm back. I’m starting to feel more in control again.”

That control was evident as in the two games heading into Tuesday night’s win over Clemson, Shumpert shot a sizzling .549 from the floor (17-for-31), .400 from three (4-for-10).

Shumpert has been doing it right all-around. In addition to the 30 points and career-high 10 field goals at Dean Dome (redemption after going 0-for-6 there last season — something he used as motivation), there is the career-high eight rebounds he grabbed against Clemson, the six assists he’s put up in each of the last three games (he totaled six in his first three games back) and his nightly steals (he has a team-leading 25, with one in 11 of the 12 games he’s played).

“He’s relentless on the court,” said freshman point Mfon Udofia. “The old Iman is back.”

“That’s what we expect from him,” added senior forward Zach Peacock. “That’s what we’re going to expect from him for the rest of the season as well.”

Shumpert expected as much from himself. It was just that his timetable was a little off.

“I sort of wanted it all back right away and [coaches] were saying we didn’t expect you to come in and be shooting lights-out after you just sat out a month,” said Shumpert, who worked through a 2-for-16 skid (1-for-8 from three) after a 4-for-9 return. “They told me I would be getting my rhythm back soon.”

Hewitt never wavered in backing his sophomore point and is sure Shumpert’s confidence didn’t ebb much if at all.

“It was not so much confidence, just making him more aware of what he was doing and how he was playing,” he said. “Just to show him, ‘Hey you can be more efficient.’ That was more than talking about his confidence.

“He’s a confident kid. Trust me,” Hewitt added with a laugh. “We don’t have to worry about his confidence.”

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