At the moment, his parents are more famous than he is. They were all over CBS-TV during Saturday night’s game against Texas, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, fainting, reviving themselves, praying, covering their faces when their son shot free throws and slumping in their seats each time he missed. It was the semaphore of parenthood — anyone who has ever suffered through a school play or Little League knows the feeling — and Nyoka and Jimmy King Sr. were putting on a clinic.
Which is fine by Jimmy King. His parents have the right to outshine him now and then.
A bigger concern is other college basketball players. Why did so many of them outshine Jimmy King this year? He was nowhere to be found on the post-season All-America lists, or, for that matter, the All-Big Ten lists. Strange, for if any player in the Michigan area was expected to leap above the rim of stardom this year, it was King — and only partly because he has been leaping like a grasshopper since his childhood in Plano, Texas.
Back then, he made friends take his picture as he dunked on a baby rim in the driveway. King studied those pictures. Saw what he was doing. When his body sprouted to its pogo stick, 6-foot, 5-inch frame, he already was mentally ready for life in the air. It came naturally.
Those kind of smarts, and that kind of physical ability, were why people figured King would chew up the void left by Chris Webber, pile on the points, take over the excitement, grow into the Fab Four spotlight even more than Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard who, as superstars, had less distance to go.
It hasn’t happened.
“I’m not the top option,” King says, shrugging. “I wasn’t in my freshman or sophomore year, and I’m not now.
“This is a team game. But some people have to sacrifice more than others.” A lot of theories
King says this as he is sprawled in a recruiting lounge couch. It has been noted, quite righty, that Jimmy King never met a couch he couldn’t fit. So natural is his melt into the cushions — feet up, head back, arms out — that you almost think it’s his natural posture.
But has he been too willing to contour his basketball to the frame of the team? Is it, as he says, a matter of “not having any plays called for me. I could count on one hand the number that we’ve run. We go to Jalen and Juwan first, I’m supposed to make it up as I go . . .
“Am I disappionted? A little. But that’s Coach’s decision. Whatever he says.”
Interesting. But is it true? Or is it, as Steve Fisher says, a case of King
“suffering more than any other player from the loss of Chris Webber. When Chris was here, Jimmy got three or four dunks a game, because Chris grabbed a rebound and there was Jimmy on a breakaway.
“And those shots gave him confidence in the rest of his game. He’s like anyone else, if he makes a few baskets, he’s a lot more confident.”
And King does seem less confident this year. Last season, in addition to shooting better and averaging more rebounds, King was U-M’s Miracle Man in the tournament, saving the team with gutsy, heads-up plays in the final seconds. This season, he disappeared in the first big game, against Duke, making just two shots.
He never fully came back.
King even went to Fisher at one point and said he couldn’t understand why his shot wasn’t falling. What was he doing wrong? His accuracy from the floor
— especially in the Big Ten — was down considerably from last year. And fans have still not forgiven his ill-advised three-point attempt with 15 seconds on the shot clock against Purdue. It missed badly.
“You know what happens,” Fisher says, “as soon as you wonder about your shot, you got 100 people telling you what you should do. Then, you can really get confused . . .
“Jimmy’s done a nice job. But like everyone, he needs to do better.” Wait till next year
In some ways, this was inevitable with the Fab Five. They were all huge stars in high school. King — like Rose, Howard and Webber — was one of the top 10 recruits in the nation his senior year. But when they all got to Michigan, there was still only one ball. Webber did the most with it the first two years. Howard is doing it now, followed closely by Rose.
King and Ray Jackson already have resigned themselves to waiting. “Senior year, I figure I may have to lead the team,” King says.
He pauses and grins. “Of course, if we keep winning, everything will take care of itself.”
In another program, as the focus, Jimmy King might average more than 20 points a game. He did that back in high school, and Friday night, King comes home. It would be fitting if he stepped up his game in front of the old Texas audience, which will include his folks and about every childhood friend he has.
Meanwhile, his season is a mystery. He admits to “thinking too much” this year, worrying about misses and turnovers. And yet, last game, against Texas, King blew free throws because he didn’t think enough. “When I concetrated, I made my last five straight.”
Too much thinking? Not enough thinking? Whatever. If there’s a switch he can throw to get back to his own excellence, Jimmy King should throw it now.
It would improve Michigan’s chances.
And make life a lot easier for his parents.