Blog Post: Talking Shot With Ohio State’s Chris Jent
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For five years, Chris Jent was the most noticeable shooting coach in the NBA, or at least one of them.
Noticeable because he worked with maybe the league’s most high-profile talent – or at least the most talked about – in LeBron James.
A year after James bolted for South Beach, Jent took his talents back to Columbus, where he had helped to lead the Buckeyes to three-consecutive NCAA tournaments and back-to-back Big Ten championships in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Today, Jent serves closely as an assistant coach under Thad Matta. He works with Ohio State players on their shot and has brought many elements of the NBA game to the Buckeye’ offense since joining the staff last summer.
I recently had the unique opportunity to sit down with Jent in his office over at Value City Arena to talk about guys like Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross. We also dove into his role in helping guys like Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson overcome their rookie struggles at the offensive end, something he says is an ongoing process.
On LaQuinton Ross…
Photo by Jim Davidson
One of the things I asked Jent about during our conversation was the development of sophomore LaQuinton Ross and whether they had to do much with his shot during the off-season.
Ross is coming off a career scoring night against Northern Kentucky, and even Jent called his offensive game “smooth,” but said the key for him, like many young players, is going to be shot preparation.
“He has to get better balance and be more grounded when he catches the basketball, or more in rhythm,” Jent told me.
“That’s a little bit of a contradiction, but his feet have to get a little better and his body position, and then he’s going to be able to use his God-given ability.”
It was clear from talking to Jent that they believe the upside is tremendous for LaQuinton, who is just starting to get a feel for what he can do on the basketball court. He didn’t play enough last year to really get a sense of how quick the game is played at this level, but that’s what they’re hoping to accomplish in the non-conference schedule.
The biggest thing with a player like Ross – and they went through the same thing with Deshaun when he was a freshman – is getting him to buy into the team concept on the offensive end of the floor.
“It’s just the concept that system wins. When everyone is playing with the same unselfishness, you’re going to get your opportunities,” Jent said, as if he was rehashing an old conversation with one of his players.
“If you all play within that system, it’s designed to help everybody. Once they feel that from their teammates and take some trust in what the coaches are trying to do, it starts to make a lot of sense and there’s a lot of production there.”
On Deshaun Thomas…
Photo by Jim Davidson
That was the same adjustment Thomas had to make from his freshman to sophomore year, only he had more experience as a rookie to help him understand what it takes to be successful at the college level.
“Spacing the floor and allowing room for your teammates to go to work a little bit,” Jent said.
“That creates help and when you’re in the right spot, the ball will find you. You don’t have to find the ball. He definitely started to understand that last year, hence he was more productive.”
Thomas averaged 16 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sophomore last season. He’s up to 21 points and 6.5 rebounds as a junior this season, but Jent believes there is still a lot of room for growth in the preseason All-American’s game. Even at the offensive end of the floor.
“I think he can grow more in the post and the mid post area, and also when people are closing out on him,” Jent told me.
“He’s improved his ball handling, and his decision-making has improved. Now with guys respecting his shot, it makes you a lot quicker, a lot more versatile because guys have to fly out at you because they’re fearful of your jump shot.”
The next step for Thomas is figuring out what to do with the ball once he gets past that initial defender. Right now, it looks like he’s just trying to force his way to the basket for an easy score, but eventually Jent hopes Thomas will learn to use his mid-range game and some post-up moves to his advantage.
One key with Thomas is making sure he stays calm, even when things aren’t going his way. When he’s rolling, Thomas has one of the most natural-looking shots in the game, but when he’s struggling to find his touch, he tends to look antsy on both ends of the floor.
“When he gets anxious he starts hopping around and doing some uncharacteristic things,” Jent said.
“We always say, ‘Hey, calm down and let the game slow down a little bit,’ and he understands that now.”
On Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson…
As Jent mentioned earlier, the ability to knock down outside shots can be an effective way for guys like Thomas and Ross to get themselves a path to the basket. The same goes for Sam Thompson, who is an uncanny athlete, but still not much of a jump shooter.
“Obviously Sam is freakishly athletic, and that’s a huge asset, but they have to guard you first,” Jent said.
“When they respect your jump shot, it makes you that much quicker and that much more athletic. It’s something he hadn’t had to do before.”
According to Jent, Thompson’s form was all over the place last season. For starters, he was shooting on the way down instead of at the top of his jump – which is a huge deal for someone with a 40+ inch vertical.
Thompson was also having some issues with the mechanics of his shot, which is something Jent worked hard with him on during the offseason.
“His shot was more like a circular motion, rather than a straight line, which you want a shot to be,” Jent added.
“He really swept the ball to the left side of his body. The ball got way outside of his body frame to the left side, and that got his elbow to get out.”
Jent said the key for Thompson is keeping his elbow under the ball and shooting the same shot every time, which will allow him to develop a rhythm and some confidence.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The same goes for Shannon Scott. Jent also spent a lot of time working with Ohio State’s backup point guard this offseason, but his problems seemed to be more mental than physical a year ago.
“Confidence is a big deal,” Jent said.
“It’s tough when you’re taking one or two shots. You take one shot and you miss it, and you do that for five games, you haven’t made a shot in five games. Well you’ve only taken five shots.”
The biggest problem for a player is when he starts taking shots without expecting them to go in. It can become a vicious cycle, and while that’s not exactly what Jent was saying about Scott, it was clear he became more and more reluctant to shoot the ball as his freshman year went on.
On Aaron Craft…
The one other player we spent a little bit of time talking about during our conversation was point guard Aaron Craft. This was before the Duke game, so we didn’t get a chance to talk about Craft’s struggles at the end of that game, but Jent did say he is trying to solve a hitch in his shooting motion.
“The more relaxed he is, like most basketball players, the more productive he’s going to be,” Jent said of Craft.
“When you make a couple, you’re more aggressive down the road. He spent a lot of time in the gym, both on his own and with the coaches.”
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