When Shaka Smart recruited Jase Febres out of Houston Westfield, he was expected to become the shooter the Texas Longhorns so desperately lacked after finishing No. 345 nationally in three-point shooting percentage in 2016-17.
As a freshman, Febres experienced some struggles in limited playing time with limited opportunities to shoot — he averaged three three-point attempts per game and only hit at a rate of 30.1 percent. A host of factors contributed, but the randomness introduced to shooting results at low volume was likely the biggest.
And yet, Smart described Febres as one of the best shooters that he’s ever coached, an assertion backed up by watching his pure stroke in warmups. The belief in Febres started to pay off this season, as his minutes increased drastically, as did his shot attempts from beyond the arc, from 93 to 239. His three-point shooting percentage rose accordingly, all the way up to 37.1 percent. Not elite, certainly, but much more in line with the shooting ability that Febres clearly possesses.
Several games showcased his pure stroke, particularly 8-for-10 three-point shooting nights against Kansas State and Iowa State, while others featured struggles, like 10 misses against Texas Tech and TCU to close the regular season and a 1-of-7 effort against South Dakota State to open the NIT.
To close the tournament, Febres maintained his confidence and went 4-11 against Lipscomb, including several big three-pointers in the second half as his coach and his teammates fed him positive energy as often as he was fed passes.
“My teammates continue to instill confidence in me, telling me to continue shooting the ball even if I miss two, three, four in a row,” Febres said after the game. “They know I can shoot the ball — they have confidence that I’m the best shooter on the floor out there.”
His pure stroke has increasingly attracted more attention from opponents, with the Red Raiders and the Horned Frogs able to limit his open looks after the Cyclones completely failed to do so in transition and on basic actions.
As a result, the next evolution of his game offensively is to use that shot credibility he’s created to drive to the basket and make plays for himself or teammates. Against Texas Tech, he was able to score and drop an assist in the first half with his shot fake and he showed more growth in that regard during the NIT. The Lipscomb game featured a drive and finish and even an off-ball cut that resulted in a three-point play.
“They tell me that every day and if a guy flies out on me, use my shot fake — Shaka preaches that to me every day,” he said.
Confidence off the bounce is clearly still a work in progress for Febres, who made only 21.9 percent of his shots from inside the arc as a sophomore and turned the ball over twice on drives against Lipscomb, but another development could be just as important for his effectiveness as a shooter and as an all-around player.
Smart often notes how shooters define themselves by whether the ball is going in the basket or not. For Febres, that was an issue for him at times and it bled into his effort defensively. In the NIT, that started to change.
“I think I took a big step on defense this entire tournament, continuing to make sure that my priority is on defense first if I miss this shot or I make this shot because that will come as long as I’m doing my part on the defensive end,” Febres said.
In fact, defensive intensity may well impact his shooting, too — instead of letting his mind become clouded by the results of his last several shots, making plays defensively can create an energy and presence within the game that helps keep the last shooting result from influencing his next shooting result. In fact, it could actually help his shooting.
One particular play stands out. In overtime against Xavier, wing Naji Marshall drove towards the basket. Recognizing the drive and remembering how Marshall attempted to finish a play earlier, Febres reacted from the corner and, anticipating the reverse layup, influenced the miss in a key moment.
The increased attention to detail was evident on the glass as well. During the NIT, Febres averaged 4.5 rebounds per game, 50 percent more than his average over the season, even with the final five contests included.
At 6’5 and with solid athleticism, Febres has all the tools to impact the game as more than just a catch-and-shoot player. And while his growth hasn’t been exceptional over his first two seasons, there are significant signs that he can become a knockdown shooter and an asset in other facets of the game.