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Zane Meeks' shooting confidence spilling into other parts of his game

Zane Meeks
Zane Meeks is developing his all-around game for Nevada during his sophomore season. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

There's an old basketball cliché about a good shooter's range starting when he enters the building.

When Steve Alford thinks about Zane Meeks' confidence in his shooting ability, he takes that saying to the next level. Meeks' shooting ability starts when he enters the solar system.

“We had that supermoon the other day and had two planets in view," Alford said. "It’s somewhere around those planets when it comes to Zane’s confidence in shooting the basketball. He does not lack any confidence in shooting.”

Meeks confirms. In fact, he has a running gag with teammate Alem Huseinovic that if his shot doesn't fall something must be wrong because there's no way it's a result of their shooting ability.

"Alem and I have a running joke that it's never our fault," Meeks said. "Maybe somebody turned the AC up a little bit and it messed up the ball flight or somebody moved the rim. The next shot is always going in. Any other mentality just doesn't work."

That confidence has made Meeks a key member of the Wolf Pack since he stepped on campus last season. The sophomore is third on the team in scoring (9.9 points per game) and first in rebounding (6.1 per game). He's also one of the team's most efficient players, making 49.1 percent of his shots, 39.6 percent from three and 80.5 percent from the free throw line. Meeks' best moment in a Nevada uniform came Tuesday when he went on a personal 7-0 run in the final minutes to bury UNLV.

Meeks had back-to-back layups followed by a dagger 3-pointer as Nevada rode a 17-2 tidal wave to complete a two-game sweep of the rival Rebels. While Alford was thrilled with Meeks' late-game performance, he also thinks that should be the norm for the 6-foot-9 forward. Yes, Meeks is an excellent shooter, but Alford wants his all-around game to continue to blossom, which is happening more often during his second season in the program.

"Zane can do those things, and I talked to him about that afterwards," Alford said after the UNLV win. "The difference in his first half and his second half was considerable. He's got to be ready to play all the time whether he's starting, whether he's coming off the bench, whether it's the first half, whether it's the second half. I thought in the first half he had a couple turnovers, I think he had an air ball in the first half, which is uncharacteristic of him, and I didn't think he was defending the way he's capable of.

"The thing with Zane is he can do it, and I told him that afterwards. 'You can guard. You can pass. And obviously you can shoot it and score.' It's just a matter of whether you're going to put your mind to doing the things other than just shooting. When he does that, we're really good because he's a very good rebounder and I thought his defense in the second half was considerably better. When he guards, his minutes go up. It's really a simple thing for him because we know he can shoot it and I know he can provide a spark for us offensively late in the game, but I thought he guarded well in the second half, and that's huge for us.

Meeks is averaging 22.6 minutes per game, up from 16.6 a night during his freshman season. If he wants to get into the 30-plus-minute range, Alford said the formula is simple. He has to defend better and improve his assist-to-turnover ratio (he has 26 turnovers to 12 assists). Meeks has come off the bench the last two games after starting 10 straight earlier this season. Alford said he doesn't have a preference for Meeks being a starter or a reserve. He's more concerned with his ability to impact the game beyond shooting.

“For Zane, it’s a lot like all the other guys," Alford said. "Do what you’re supposed to do. Guard, pass and catch effectively. Zane is a very good scorer because he can shoot the ball, and he’s a very good rebounder. Zane’s development has to be defensively and has to take care of the ball. He has way too many turnovers compared to his assists. Those are things he’s really working hard on because he should be a good passer. It’s executing our offense and really defending at the level we need for him to defend. He’s extremely capable of doing so. He just has to convince himself to do it. He’s much more athletic than what he portrays a lot of times. I’m trying to create Zane so he’s not just a standstill 3-point shooter. I want him to be a complete player.”

Simply put, Alford wants Meeks to be as confident and competent in the other parts of his game as he is in shooting the ball. But nobody doubts Meeks' shooting confidence, which is what helped get him to the Division I level. Even after a poor first half Tuesday night against UNLV, Meeks never became gun shy.

"I didn't have the best first half of my career to say the least, but next shot's always going in no matter what," said Meeks, who said he's been confident since his childhood. "You have to go out there and hoop and who cares. I shot the air ball. Whatever. Next shot is going in. You can't sit there and hang your head."

Meeks' value was never more obvious than Nevada's series at Wyoming last month. Out with sore knees, Meeks traveled with the team but didn't play as Nevada dropped two games. Meeks might have been the difference in those contests, just as he was the difference Tuesday against UNLV. Despite his youthfulness, Meeks is one of the most important players on Nevada's roster and one of the guys Alford pushes the hardest because of that potential.

"He's a huge, huge difference-maker," Boise State coach Leon Rice said of Meeks. " He's a really good player."

More than perhaps anybody on the team, Alford also likes ribbing Meeks. The Prairie Village, Kan., native is a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, who play in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Bucs. That game will be played shorty after the second game of Nevada's series with Boise State. While Meeks, and Nevada's strength coach Matt Eck (a native of Newton, Kan.), will be rooting for the Chiefs, Alford is supporting the Bucs, mostly because he knows that will get under Meeks' skin.

"I would guess because Coach Eck and Zane are such big Kansas City Chiefs fans, I'll be pulling for Tom Brady and the Bucs," said Alford, a Pittsburgh Steelers supporter. "I think it'd be a great story if Tom could get another one. I always tell Coach Eck that the two Chiefs fans here are him and Zane just to put more salt into his wounds. Those two obviously are pulling hard for the Chiefs, but just because of that to create some enthusiasm on the staff, I'll go for the Bucs."

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.


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