MOSCOW, Idaho – Toward the conclusion of an Idaho basketball practice, players go through shooting drills.
At one of the stations they launch 3-point shots, including 7-foot Oregon State transfer Jack Wilson, who will be eligible to play for the Vandals next year. Wilson, whose repertoire should include the traditional post moves of drop steps, hooks and spins, also hits a respectable percentage from beyond the arc.
For even the most casual fan, there is no more relatable skill than putting the ball in the basket, especially from a distance. The Vandals are fortunate to have a pair of young players who fit that bill.
Freshman guards Cameron Tyson and RayQuawndis Mitchell have already had breakout games this season that offer Vandals fans hope the current 4-15 record is on-the-job training for stellar seasons ahead.
Tyson said his career goals include Big Sky Conference championships and a couple of NCAA Tournaments. He is already the league’s sixth-best 3-point shooter, connecting on 60 of 138 attempts (43.5 percent), and is averaging 13.1 points a game with a season-high 27 against Weber State.
Mitchell, who began playing basketball in the seventh grade, has hit 14 of 50 3-pointers, but that includes a 15-point effort against Montana State in which he drained 4 of 8 shots from beyond the arc.
Both have had moments this season when the basket seems huge.
“It feels like you can’t miss,” Tyson said.
“I make a couple of shots, and I feel like (Steph) Curry,” Mitchell said.
Their forms are distinct. Tyson’s shot begins with a more pronounced knee bend.
“That leg thing gets you a higher jump shot and a quick release,” said Mitchell, whose stroke is a short, piston-like move with shoulders and arms.
“I shoot like Klay Thompson, upper body,” said Mitchell, who claims he is most confident launching a shot from the dribble.
For Tyson, shooting off the dribble and catching and shooting are equally comfortable.
He has no favorite place to shoot on the floor, saying the feel of a game is more important than seeking a spot.
“You hit that first one, ‘OK,’ he said. “Hit the second one, ‘OK, OK, we might be on to something.’ The third one is the check. Make that, and you’re not going to stop shooting.”
On a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores, testing combinations has been a steady feature of Idaho games.
Tyson and Mitchell believe they complement each other on the court.
“I think we play great together,” Tyson said. “When I make a 3, he’s the first one to congratulate me.”
Mitchell sketches out a still-developing scenario for breaking the hearts of defenses that should delight Vandals fans for years to come.
“When we’re in a game together, it’s tough to guard us,” he said. “He makes a 3. Then I make one, ‘Oh, snap. We’ve got to guard them both.’ Then we’ll play a little two-man game with each other.”
Tyson, who has played basketball for as long as he can remember, set scoring records in high school in Bothell, Washington. He also starred on AAU clubs and is comfortable as a scoring threat.
Mitchell, who was a football and baseball player in Georgia, took up basketball when he moved to Blaine, Minnesota, in middle school.
“I feel my role is evolving,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he was the man on his high school team but was at best the third option on a talented AAU club.
“I hit the shot when I was open,” he said.
At Idaho, with only junior guard Trevon Allen to look to as an upperclassmen after senior wing Nate Sherwood’s season was ended by an illness, Tyson and Mitchell have had to be self-taught in large measure.
“In the summer, when Nate was healthy, he taught me a lot about defense,” Tyson said.
Since then, the two freshmen have been on their own.
“For me, basketball’s just basketball,” Tyson said. “At the end of the day, (opponents) have got to lace them up just like I’ve got to.”
For all their struggles this season, Tyson believes the Vandals are close to realizing their promise. Idaho has played well in stretches almost every night.
“We’re locked into every game, even though the box score does not show it,” Tyson said. “We’re going to upset some people. We just have to learn to finish games.”
“The Big Sky Tournament is three games,” Mitchell said. “We need to pull together and get it.”
For anyone who has watched the young guards shoot well from the outside, Mitchell offers a comforting thought.
“We’re going to be here a long time,” he said.
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