WATERVILLE — Luke Westman is a man among giants. Really. Look at the other players at the top of the NCAA Division III field goal percentage leaderboard with Westman, a 6-foot-3 point guard at Colby College.

Kevin-Michael Miller, of Drew, is 6-8. Daniel Purvlicis, of Wasbash, is 6-7. Lancaster Bible’s CJ Dunstan is 6-5, and there’s John Swords, Bowdoin’s 7-foot center. Those guys should be among the top shooters. Big men typically take most of their shots within two feet of the rim. They dunk. Shooting a basketball doesn’t get any easier than jumping a few inches and dropping the ball through the cylinder.

Yet here we are, with Westman, a guard, tall for real life but not particularly tall in a basketball sense, among the trees of the low post.

A junior, Westman trails just Miller in shooting percentage. When the national stats were updated to reflect games played through Jan. 11, Westman had made 74 of 102 shots, 72.5 percent. Since then, Westman played in Colby’s 75-70 win over Hamilton on Friday night, and his shooting percentage went up, to 73.6 percent. He was 4 for 4 in the game, and scored 12 points. Saturday, Westman was 5 for 5, scoring 13 points in a 72-65 loss to Williams.

To be included among the leaders by the NCAA, a player must make an average of five shots per game. Through 15 games, Westman makes just over five per game, which puts him in line with the others on the national leaderboard.

As a freshman, Westman made 53 percent of his shots (44 for 83). As a sophomore last season, he shot 65.2 percent (86 for 132), second-best in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, behind only Swords. The key to his shooting success, Westman said, is he’s not constantly on the court looking for a shot.

“I think I’ve always been a decent shooter. I think what’s changed in college is the shots I choose to take. A lot of the shots I take are short jumpers or close to the rim,” Westman said before Thursday’s practice. “If I have an open three, we can always get a better shot. There are kids on my team that are much better shooters than me, so I might as well get them a shot.”

The secret to Westman’s shooting prowess might be found in his Twitter handle, @HesSoCrafty.

“It starts with his basketball IQ. I think he knows his strengths very well. He’s cognizant of his limitations. He doesn’t take bad shots. He understands the game, and he’s able to get to good spots on the floor,” Colby men’s basketball coach Damien Strahorn said of Westman. “He’s kind of slithery, getting through tight spaces. A lot of his attacks will come through those tight spaces. He’s able to get through and extend and finish. He works the baseline pretty well, and just has a crafty feel to him.”

Look at the three game stretch Westman had last week, when the Mules played Husson and NESCAC rivals Wesleyan and Connecticut College. Westman made 18 of 21 shots and averaged 20 points in those three games. Colby won all three (the Mules are 10-6, 3-1 in NESCAC games).

Three Colby players — Chris Hudnut, Ryan Jann and Sam Willson — have taken more shots than Westman. Nobody takes the right shot as often as Westman. Strahorn marvels at Westman’s efficiency, his ability to find cuts and with them, space for an open shot.

“That old school ability to move without the ball is something he really excels at. It’s kind of a lost art,” Strahorn said.

Strahorn said Westman can hit 15-18 foot jumpers all day. When he’s running in the flow of Colby’s offense, Westman isn’t even considering those shots.

“If you look at my shot chart, I think I’ve probably taken maybe 10 jump shots all year,” Westman said. “The way I score is either in transition, off the pick and roll, or dribble drives getting to the rim. It’s almost comical how few jumps shots I’ve taken.”

Westman has taken just three 3-pointers all season. None went in, but that doesn’t mean it’s a shot Strahorn wants him to avoid.

“I think he’s a better shooter from there than he may give himself credit for,” Strahorn said. “If guys are going to play six, seven, eight feet off, at some point you’ve got to pull the trigger.”

“I feel my moves are an easier way to get to the rim rather than just settle for jump shots,” Westman, who also averages 4.1 assists per game, said. Westman can’t tell you what goes into deciding when the next shot is the right shot. When he’s in the game, and everything’s moving quickly, he just knows.

“That’s a really good question. I don’t shoot a ton. The only time I shoot is when I know it’s a good shot. I don’t know what that comes from,” Westman said. “Seventy-two percent is pretty ridiculous. Staying over 60 percent won’t be hard, with the shots I take. Missing a few shots won’t hurt it much. I care much less about my shooting percentage than I do how well the team does. If that takes a hit, and the team does well, I’m fine with that.”

That’s the instinct, the basketball IQ, the crafty, at work.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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