Published: January 13, 2014
Some shooters were born without the burden of a conscience.
Marek Olesinski is not one of them.
The Air Force center has hit 3-pointers at a 39.7 percent clip in his career - Reggie Miller was 39.5 from slightly longer range in his NBA career, for a point of reference. Yet, despite his success, it's easy to see the wheels turning in Olesinski's head as he often talks himself out of shots.
He made a few early 3s in the conference opener against Utah State and parlayed that into 21 points as he went 3-of-5 from long range. The next game he had less success early and finished just 1-of-4. The next game he attempted just two and, on Sunday against San Diego State, he missed his first 3-point attempt and didn't take another one.
"Maybe I am a little like that," said the junior from Roswell, N.M. "The more confidence I have the more relaxed and comfortable I feel and I don't think as much, I guess. When the confidence isn't there, maybe I question myself a little."
In the past, if Olesinski wasn't shooting the 3, there was little he had to offer the Falcons. This year that hasn't been the case. He is averaging 5.4 rebounds, including 6.3 through four conference games, and has shown a newfound ability to score on the interior. He scored the first points against San Diego State with a pump-fake and strong shot against a taller defender - a move he never would have attempted in the past.
"Last year I mostly shot the 3," he said. "That's all I felt comfortable doing and I didn't really try to do anything else."
Olesinski credits his time with first-year assistant Capt. Nick Welch, himself a former Falcons center with outside touch, with developing a more well-rounded game.
But none of the Air Force coaches have been able to fully get through to the 6-foot-9 big man and convince him to keep doing what they know he can do.
"Sometimes you don't talk about it," coach Dave Pilipovich said. "It's like the pitcher who's got the no-hitter going into the seventh. You don't sit by him or say anything about it. Same with the golfer who maybe shanked a few, you don't say anything but just pat him on the rear end and tell him to keep doing what he's been doing."
The Falcons need Olesinski to keep shooting aggressively. In games in which he has scored at least 15 points, the team is 4-1. In the other games they are 4-6.
It's not just the points, but what they do to the opposing team that provides so much value. Generally a center is guarding him, so when Olesnski can get to the perimeter that means a big man must give chase. That opens the inside for teammates cutting to the basket, it allows Olesinski a lane in which to drive, it partially neutralizes what is generally a height advantage for the opponent when it comes to grabbing a potential rebound and it wears down the big guy giving chase.
"The more consistent he is, the better off we are," Pilipovich said.
A hot-shooting big man is perhaps more valuable to Air Force than any other team in the conference simply because of all the ways in which it helps.
The problem is, the Falcons need to convince their big man that he's always that guy.