Not long after UTSA guard Knox Hellums started dribbling around in the driveway of his Houston-area home as a pre-elementary school basketball project, he started to swish jumpers.
“I started playing when I was, like, four years old,” the Roadrunners’ sharp-shooting, red-shirt junior said Friday afternoon. “My dad put a hoop up in the driveway. I started shooting out there. My dad ultimately taught me how to shoot.
“Around sixth grade, I kind of fixed my form. I’ve had the same form since sixth grade. I just kind of started in close, and then worked my way out. Once I got bigger and stronger, I was just extending my range with the same form since then.”
After a slow start to his first season with the Roadrunners, Hellums has emerged as one of the team’s most efficient three-point threats.
In his first five games, he shot 23.8 percent from the field. In his last six, the former prep standout at Tomball Concordia Lutheran, a transfer from Pepperdine, has cranked it up to 56.5 percent, including 62.5 percent from long distance.
As Illinois State comes in for a 3 p.m. Saturday game at the Convocation Center, Hellums likely is a topic of discussion among Redbirds’ coaches, having hit at least one three-pointer in his last four games, including 4 for 4 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and 3 for 6 against UT Permian Basin.
In that stretch, he’s averaging 7.8 points, becoming one of the team’s most valuable assets as opponents attempt to defend an offense that also features the explosive duo of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.
UTSA coach Steve Henson said he knew Hellums would come around after some anxious moments in the first few games of the year.
“With Knox, it took a little bit for him to settle in, to do what we knew he could do,” Henson said. “We believed all along that he would step up and be a good three-point shooter for us. He’s proven that he could do it in another mid-major league.”
At Pepperdine, Hellums played 58 games combined in two seasons, averaging 4.5 points each year. He sat out last season under transfer rules.
“Just a matter of him settling in, getting comfortable with us,” Henson said. “Our struggles with the team probably affected him. And vice versa. You get him to make shots, it takes pressure off the other guys, and certainly the other way around.”
Illinois State 5-6
Illinois State, based in Normal, Ill., is looking for its first win away from home. The Redbirds are 0-3 on neutral courts and 0-2 in road games. The Redbirds are defense-oriented, holding opponents to 69 ppg. They’ve struggled offensively averaging 68.5 points. In their last outing, they defeated Illinois-Chicago 67-66 Wednesday night by scoring the last 11 points of the game. Zach Copeland hit the game-winning three-pointer with 8.6 seconds left.
UTSA is 4-2 in its last six games but is coming off a disappointing loss to Oregon State. The Roadrunners made 15 three-point shots and still got beat, 88-78, Wednesday afternoon in Houston at the Toyota Center. The Beavers shot an opponent season-high 55.8 percent from the field, including 59.1 percent in the second half. Jhivvan Jackson leads the nation in scoring at 25.5 points per game and also averages 5.6 rebounds. Keaton Wallace is averaging 16.1 points.
UTSA has two games left before its opening game in Conference USA. After today, the Roadrunners get a break for the holiday and then host Our Lady of the Lake on Dec. 28. UTSA starts C-USA play with a road trip to Florida, including games at Florida Atlantic on Jan. 2 and Florida International on Jan. 4.
“We cannot continue to have the type of defensive numbers that we have right now and do anything special in conference play. Our guys recognize that. We have to improve. We have to get better. And our guys embrace it. Some things we can control. Some things we can’t. We’re going to have some lineups where we’re not the quickest. Not the most athletic. But, we can guard better.” — Henson, discussing his team’s struggles on defense.