Oakland’s Travis Bader will keep shooting, and NCAA records may fall
Oakland University senior guard Travis Bader doesn’t have a green light to shoot. He has a mandate.
Golden Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe says that “Travis can never shoot enough threes for me. I never want him shooting the ball from 15 feet,” noting that he doesn’t even have Bader practice mid-range jumpers.
In Kampe’s uptempo, dribble drive-heavy attack, the shooting guard isn’t just encouraged to take 3s. He has to, in high volumes. That’s the way the Golden Grizzlies’ system works best, and it’s worked so well for Bader that he likely will end his career as the most prolific three-point shooter in Division I history.
As Kampe recalls, though, the process of turning Bader into his latest remorseless marksman took some time, even after Bader set himself up for this role by connecting on 44 percent of 212 tries as a frosh.
“I remember once his sophomore year, he came off a screen after having missed two or three in a row, and he turned one down,” Kampe said. “And at our level, you have maybe 4,000 people in the stands and you can hear everything the coach is yelling. And I yelled at him ‘I can’t get you a [expletive] better shot than that.’ The whole place heard it. You could just see it on his face.”
Bader got the message. That season, on a team with the nation’s leading scorer in Reggie Hamilton, Bader made 39.5 percent of 314 3-point attempts. Last year, after Hamilton departed and Bader became the clear first option offensively, he still managed to up his volume to 360 tries from behind the arc, while still making 38.6 percent of them. He now sits just 101 makes (to pass former Duke star J.J. Redick) and 307 attempts (to surpass diminutive St. Peter’s gunner Keydren Clark) from career records in those categories. If he stays healthy, he’s going to get them.
You would think the demands of being such an extreme high-volume shooter would create situations where Bader is forced to take bad shots. Bader’s shooting percentages, though, suggest otherwise, and so does he.
“Honestly, not very often,” he replied when asked how many times he feels like he’s taking a forced look. “Whenever I’m shooting the ball, I have that belief that it’s a good shot and I had enough room to shoot it or had a good look at the hoop. And every time I put it up there, I feel like it’s going to go in. So there’s something going through my head that I thought I was open for a split-second.”
That type of mentality, whether 100 percent accurate or not, is what Kampe tries to cultivate in his designated shooter. Kampe’s teams have had a long line of prolific 3-point takers. Before Bader, the Golden Grizzlies featured Eric Kangos, who in each of his last three seasons (2007-09), made at least 41 percent from the arc while taking over 200 of them.
That kind of free-shooting track record helps Kampe in recruiting, as the ability to take a ton of jumpers sounds really appealing to high schoolers. But Kampe, who has been with the program for three decades and brought it up from Division II in the late 1990s, knows that’s just the beginning of the process of molding his go-to guy. Oftentimes, a kid who thinks he wants to be that shooter finds out that he’s not suited for that role once he fully sees what it entails.
“All kids want to play fast until they get onto a team that plays fast. Then they realize the conditioning and discipline it takes to play fast,” Kampe said. “All kids want to fire up shots until they realize that when you’re the guy who is going to take 11 3s a game, you better make five of them. Once they’re in that position, the mental side of it is something. It’s a learning process.”
Bader obviously has shown significant aptitude as a shooter, but the mental toughness part is what has separated him from most others. Per Kenpom.com, Bader led the country in percentage of minutes played last season at around 38 minutes a contest. So not only is he asked to take a ton of shots, he has to do it while rarely getting a break to keep his legs fresh. He’s also getting heavily targeted by defensive game plans, from both conference foes and high-majors alike. Kampe said last season at Tennessee, the Volunteers kept switching a fresh defender with size onto Bader every few minutes, but the coach remains steadfast in his approach and his confidence in his best player.
“We’re not going to say, ‘OK, you win,” Kampe said of defenses overplaying Bader. “We’re going to keep trying to get him shots.”
That philosophy may be tested more in league play this season. One possible hitch in Bader’s path toward the record books is Oakland’s move to the Horizon League. The Golden Grizzlies’ former home, the Summit League, was quite favorable for shooters. Every team in the league last season notched an effective field goal percentage of over 50 percent in league play. That’s very different from the more physical Horizon League, where only four of the league’s nine teams crossed that threshold last season.
While it may be an advantage for Bader in that Horizon coaches haven’t seen him before, he knows that today’s modern technology environment means scouting him is just a couple mouse clicks away. That’s not shaking his confidence, though. He has thrived in every role from lethal secondary option to complementary scorer to leading man. With one final college season at hand and significant personal history there to be grabbed (as well as team success, with Oakland poised to be pretty solid), Bader’s not going to let a transition to a new league deter him from his goals.
“I’m always looking for new ways to get open and new ways to score,” he said, simply, “so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”