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Like father (and his father), like son: The evolution of Badgers men's basketball standout Micah Potter's 3-point shot
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Like father (and his father), like son: The evolution of Badgers men's basketball standout Micah Potter's 3-point shot

potter shot 1-6

Senior center Micah Potter attempts a 3-point shot against Maryland. Potter is shooting 45% from beyond the arc (36 of 80) in 32 career games with UW.

It began in front of a Little Tikes basketball hoop, little Micah Potter hoisting up shot after shot after shot.

It may have seemed odd to Potter, who was 2 or 3 at the time, that he was being asked to place his left hand behind his back while shooting with only his dominant hand. But that’s what his father had requested and Potter, even then, was eager to listen and learn.

To Tim Potter, this wasn’t some master plan with an eye on a prize two decades down the road. He was simply passing along the same lessons to his sons he’d been taught by his father years earlier.

So really, it began back in a driveway in northeast Ohio with Bob Potter, who had played at Kent State in the 1950s, teaching Tim and his brothers the mechanics of shooting a basketball. Bob actually tied his sons’ left hands behind their back before sending them outside to work on their shots, drilling into them the importance of a fundamentally sound motion. Tim, like Micah years later, didn’t protest and grew to love the process of shooting hundreds of one-handed shots each day.

The fruits of that labor are on display every time Bob’s grandson suits up for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team. Micah Potter, a 6-foot-10 senior center, now has a season’s worth of data to make the claim he’s one of the best shooting big men in the country.

In 32 career games with the No. 8 Badgers (9-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) heading into a matchup against Indiana (7-4, 2-2) on Thursday night at the Kohl Center, Potter is 36 of 80 (45%) from 3-point range.

Some wondered after Potter shot 45.1% from beyond the arc in 21 games last season if that was some sort of fluke and whether his production from the perimeter would come crashing back to reality in 2020-21. The answer, at least so far, is no: Through 11 games, he’s at 44.8% (13 of 29).

“It’s not surprising to me,” Tim Potter said. “I told him, ‘You should be at 55-60 percent.’ ”

The basics

Tim Potter was a firm believer the early years were important in establishing proper mechanics; by the time a player reached middle school, it likely was too late to fix a broken shot.

So he preached the basics right from the start: hand placement, with the off hand serving as a guide. A properly tucked elbow. A fluid release without any hitches along the way. “Just pretend,” he’d tell Micah, “like your index finger is picking your nose.”

Micah would listen, but he’d also watch. “I’m a big visual learner,” he says now. “Really where I got most of my jump shot from is watching my dad’s shooting motion. Is it the exact same? No, because everyone’s different. But it was just being able to see him shoot the ball like that and be able to try to emulate it.”

Tim Potter, like his father, became a pastor. He may have followed Bob’s career path in basketball as well — from prep star to a college scholarship — had it not been for the nine leg surgeries he’d had by the time he graduated from high school.

“It was one of those things where it was God telling him, ‘You know what? I want a different path for you,’” Micah said.

Tim is content to watch his children live out the dreams he never could. Daughter Emma, who’s headed to Ball State next season for track and field, will be the fourth Division I athlete in the family, joining Caleb (baseball at West Virginia), Micah and Noah (football at Ohio State).

Before he watched Micah’s career play out as a father/fan, Tim was his coach in elementary school and junior high.

It was as a third grader at a small Christian school where Micah, with Tim holding the clipboard, was introduced to the 3-point arc.

By that point, he’d been drilled in the fundamentals and was strong enough to get it to the basket from that distance. It was, well, love at first 3-point shot and …

“All I wanted to do,” Micah said, “was shoot 3s.”

Finding a rhythm

The shame in Micah’s evolution as a shooter is his grandfather never got to see the finished product. Bob Potter died on August 2, 2015, after a battle with cancer.

Shortly thereafter, Micah, already orally committed to Ohio State, packed his bags and moved 1,000 miles to the south to enroll at Montverde Academy, a college prep school in Florida. He’d won a state title in Ohio while playing alongside Caleb at Mentor High School but wanted a bigger challenge for his senior season.

It was at Montverde where Potter realized he could become a great shooter. Playing on a loaded team that included future NBA lottery pick RJ Barrett (Duke) and another NBA draft choice in Bruno Fernando (Maryland), Potter filled a valuable role on Kevin Boyle’s team.

“We encouraged him to shoot the ball,” Boyle said. “He was a big guy who could stretch the floor and in today’s game, it’s just such a value with screening and popping. It takes the shot blockers out of the paint, it takes rebounders out of the paint and it takes big guys who can’t really move and makes it really difficult for them to help on a screen and get back to a guy like Micah who can shoot the ball. It just creates a lot of difficult matchups for big guys on the opposing teams.”

Potter’s arrival at UW in December 2018 was a better-late-than-never situation for both parties. It was a perfect match for an offense that encourages its big men to stretch the floor, and for a player who largely hadn’t gotten to show off that skill during two mostly frustrating seasons at Ohio State.

Thad Matta recruited Potter for a stretch 4 role but only got one season to develop him in that spot before being fired. Chris Holtmann apparently didn’t see the value of using Potter as a shooter: After going 17 of 51 from 3-point range as a freshman, Potter went 6 of 20 from beyond the arc the following season.

“I knew I was a much better shooter than what the numbers showed,” Potter said. “Part of that was confidence, another part of it was opportunity to be able to shoot the ball.”

As maddening as it was to be forced by the NCAA to wait … and wait … and wait … for his turn at UW, Potter put that time to good use. He spent his time in practice figuring out his role in the Badgers’ actions on offense, particularly in pick-and-pop situations along the top of the key.

One of the most impressive aspects of Potter’s 3-point performance with the Badgers is how, unlike most shooters, he hasn’t been streaky. Potter has missed more than two 3-point attempts in a game only once at UW and followed up his worst stretch — 2 of 11 in six games last season — by going 11 of 21 over the final five games.

“Once I got in my rhythm, it was smooth sailing from there,” Potter said. “It’s something that I’m capable of doing every single year. I knew I was fully capable of doing it.”

These days, Potter’s release is higher and quicker than it was back when he fell in love with the 3-pointer. But some things remain the same.

Before every practice and game, Potter finds a spot in front of the rim and shoots until he’s ready to move to the next spot, usually after he’s swished a couple in a row. He’ll take turns outside the block/charge arc, on both sides of the hoop, before he’s ready to begin shooting from longer distances.

His left arm isn’t behind his back while shooting those shorter shots but it may as well be. They’re all taken one-handed, with proper exaggerated form, just as his father and grandfather would want it.

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