Heslip takes aim, Baylor moves on
The first time Baylor’s Perry Jones III saw Brady Heslip he mistook him for a team manager.
Teammate Fred Ellis’ initial impression of the pale, floppy-haired Canadian was that he was a skateboarder.
And when Heslip sat out last season after transferring to the Bears, students wanted to know who the white kid was who hung out with the basketball team.
But once they all saw Heslip on the court, there was no more confusion, stereotyping or questions.
"He can shoot it now," Jones III said.
Now the nation knows that after the gum-chewing Heslip had career highs of nine 3-pointers and 27 points Saturday night to spark third-seeded Baylor’s 80-63 victory against No. 11 seed Colorado at The Pitt in a third-round game of the NCAA tournament’s South Regional.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Heslip, whose previous best for 3s was a 6-of-10 effort at BYU in December.
Heslip, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound starting sophomore shooting guard from Burlington, Ontario, misfired just three times on 3s, and his only other miss came on a floater after being chased from the 3-point line.
His barrage was just two 3s short of tying former Loyola Marymount guard Jeff Fryer’s single-game NCAA tournament record in 1990.
Heslip has made 29 of 52 3-point attempts during his last five games and is shooting 45.6 percent on 3s for the season (98 of 215). He also is averaging 10.3 points per game for the Bears (29-7).
With a matchup next week in Atlanta in the South region semifinals against the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 15 seed Leigh (27-7) and No. 10 Xavier (22-12), the Bears could face top overall seed Kentucky (34-2) with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
Heslip’s 3s came on a night in which Jones III, a sophomore and an alleged future NBA lottery pick, once again struggled, with 7 points and 4 rebounds, and his coach Scott Drew again looked lost on the sideline at times. Heslip made them every way imaginable — off screens, with a hand in his face and even falling down.
After several early 3s, Heslip celebrated with “the goose eye,” in which he pinched his thumb and forefinger together and placed the circle around one of his eyes. By halftime, he had connected on 6 of his 8 attempts to give his otherwise sluggish team a 37-35 lead.
Later, during a 14-0 run in the second half that give his team a 75-60 lead with 4:22 left, he had two backbreaking 3s. By then, he was bouncing around the court after each like a boxer who had delivered a knockout punch.
“Heslip was the difference,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “He was unconscious tonight.”
Heslip’s barrage of 3s not only made him one of the faces of this NCAA tournament, but also one of Twitter’s most trending topics Saturday night. But afterward, he downplayed his performance.
Instead, he credited his teammates for setting screens that got him open as well as for their on-time, on-target passes. Late in the game, his teammates wanted him to try to break Fryer’s record, but they said he wouldn’t shoot.
“That humility is what makes our team successful,” Drew said.
Growing up in Canada, Heslip was introduced to the game at the age of 3 and honed his skills playing H-O-R-S-E in the driveway with his father.
"It was just something I fell in love with," Heslip said.
In need of a 3-point shooting specialist, Drew sought out Heslip when he decided to leave Boston College after redshirting as a freshman in 2010 and the Eagles changed coaches. The nephew of former Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano, he was 24 pounds heavier when he arrived at Baylor.
Through his renowned work ethic, he lost the weight and honed his shooting. It’s common for him to shoot before class, after it and then again after practice.
Drew credited Heslip’s devotion for the sharpshooter not becoming tired Saturday night, despite the arena’s mile-high altitude.
“That shocked me,” Drew said.
Freshman forward Quincy Miller, Heslip’s roommate, joked that Heslip is so dedicated to shooting that he dreams about it.
“Instead of Zs," Miller said, "it’s 3s."
Yet as impressive Heslip’s shooting was Saturday, his teammates were nonchalant about it.
“It’s not that amazing to me because I know he’s a great shooter,” Miller said.
But what Heslip does that amazes his teammates almost sounds mythical. Jones III gushed about Heslip consistently making shots from just inside half court.
Miller said he once saw Heslip make 50 3s in a row during a workout.
“It was like it wasn’t nothing,” Miller said. “They were nothing but net.”
That doesn’t spare Heslip from being chided by his teammates about his hair, which Miller described as “a little comb over.” Because of it, they call him Brad Pitt and Wayne Gretzky.
Entering the NCAA tournament, some Baylor students still didn’t know Heslip’s name. Instead, Miller said they referred to him as “the white kid on the team who doesn’t miss.”
“I’m pretty sure people know now,” Miller said.
Non-Baylor fans still might need help remembering Heslip’s actual name though. But at least now they know he can shoot.