EAST LANSING – Did you ever have an itch but you can’t reach it, and you twist yourself around and suddenly your arm hurts, too, then your back hurts, and even if someone is telling you to stop acting like a pretzel all you can think about is making that dang itch stop?
Welcome to Durrell Summers’ relationship with his jump shot. He can’t reach it. He can’t scratch it. But man, it’s dominating his every thought. Sitting with the senior guard from Detroit in Michigan State’s locker room this week, I heard a young player who is so fixed on fixing what never needed fixing, he’s in a fix.
“It was right before the season, I kinda changed my mechanics a little bit,” Summers said. “Just changed my elbow position. I’m not locking it in. And being a scorer, if it don’t feel like I’m shooting it the right way – it kind of affects my whole game.”
Affect it? At times it has swallowed it. Summers has been in single digits 10 of the last 12 games. He hardly seems like the breakout player everyone witnessed in last year’s NCAA tournament. There were games this season when he flat-out disappeared.
He blames himself, not others. He works every day, in every way, to try to get the feeling again. So much so, that Tom Izzo has told him to go home certain nights, get out of the gym, stop obsessing over it.
This is a bit like telling a bear to ignore the food smell, or a horse to ignore the buzzing fly on its back.
Totally out of whack
“When you don’t have that flow and that rhythm, your timing is off on everything,” Summers said, shaking his head. “You might go after a loose ball and not even get it.”
This, he explained, was behind one of his lowest moments this season, during the Ohio State game, when he made like a statue as the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft outhustled him for a loose ball and a key score.
“I wasn’t being lazy, I was just – I was just so out of rhythm, I saw it and misjudged it,” Summers said. “I was just so messed up worrying about it all. … You feel like everybody’s watching everything you do.”
Critics – and coaches – claim that he can do plenty besides score. Rebounding and defense are ways to get back in the flow. Summers doesn’t deny that. He just says that most of the season, without his “ace” – what he calls his shooting touch – the whole game feels as if he’s running in a suit and tie.
“I’ve never gone through anything like this before,” he said. You can’t help but feel for the guy. He’s like a golfer who monkeyed too much with his swing. Summers, when’s he’s on, just melts into the game. He can fly, he can soar, he can score in huge bunches.
But that’s when he’s not thinking about it. This dilemma has him over-thinking his pregame routines.
“I go from taking a nap, then, if that doesn’t work, not taking a nap. Wear my socks one way. Then not. Listening to music before the game, then stop listening to music.”
Trying to scratch that itch.
A reason for hope
Summers has even alternated his prayer schedule. Try it before. Try it after. He prays every day to get his game back and help his team win.
And that may be what haunts him the most. Summers has seen how many close games the Spartans have dropped. “I feel like if I was playing to the level I can play at, we would have had a better chance,” he said. “For the most part, Kalin (Lucas) and Draymond (Green) are playing pretty well. Coach always talks about us as the Big Three. But I haven’t been doing my part.”
The good news for MSU fans is that Summers felt a breakthrough this week. Maybe it’s the tournament. Maybe it’s the trip to a new arena, a new state and a new team (tonight, in Tampa, against UCLA). But he says a cloud has lifted. The shot feels good.
“It’s a new life,” he said.
It needs to be. As a senior, tonight’s game could be his last. Best-case scenario, he has six college nights to rediscover whatever has abandoned him. In the locker room, already dressed for practice, Summers, the kid with the itch, made this observation:
“Your mind can definitely be your best friend or your worst enemy.”
So can your jump shot.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).