When Kelly Faris was about four years old, or so her mother Connie remembers, she would stand on the tallest stool or box or bench she could find at basketball games in order to tell exactly what was going on and why.
“Even then you could tell [about her],” Connie Faris said. “She was interested in learning about the game.”
And now that she’s a senior captain at No. 2 UConn, a member of three Final Four teams and one national champion, Faris is quite able to tell when her opponent believes she is not capable of doing something.
And that makes her very, very angry.
“If you work as hard as she does, and the defense sticks someone in the lane [that should be guarding her] and you know it’s because they don’t respect her shooting, its gets in your head, makes you mad,” UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph said.
“It ate right at her.”
It bothered Faris, but she also knew the reason. She came into this season a career 42 percent shooter, just 30 percent from the three-point line.
On a team with tremendous perimeter players like Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and earlier in her career, Maya Moore, it was smart for defenses to gamble Faris was not the one to guard.
“Did I look at it like I want to make them pay?” Faris said. “I don’t know. But it is something you should take personally, if it happens to you, and it happened to me quite a bit last season. I need to keep defenses honest, give them a reason to guard me.”
But she was going to need to figure it out by herself.
“I’m not one to tell people things,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I want them to figure it out for themselves. Kelly is a very reliable kid. She knew that being able to handle and shoot the ball are things that good perimeter players do. She spent a lot of time on it.”
So Faris just worked harder, pumping up at least 500 shots a day in the gym in order to perfect the fundamentals of her shooting motion in hopes more would go in then roll out.
“Practice makes perfect,” Caroline Doty said. “It’s just like if you wanted to play the guitar. When you shoot, the idea is to become like a machine. If it goes in, you want to make sure you repeat the motion every time.”
Now look at Faris. As UConn prepares for Monday’s game against Maryland at the XL Center, the little girl standing on the box has begun to put defenders inside them with her shooting touch.
Faris, shoulders squared to the target, has made 21 of 28 shots from the floor in UConn’s first six games. Even more impressively, she is 9 of 14 from three and 9 of 11 from the free throw line.
“Check that shooting percentage out,” Doty said. “She takes a lot of things very personally. She wants to be the best and she leads through her actions. She’s one of the smartest players on the floor.
“She is making some very smart shot selection. She may not get 10 to 12 shots, but the shots she gets she may make because they are smart shots. She took it as a personal challenge. She’s spent a lot of time of the floor shooting threes so when she gets her chance she can nail it.”
Faris says her problems were mechanical, akin to a pitcher looking to perfect and repeat his release point.
“I’d been doing some little things, by habit, that were causing me to miss,” Faris said. “So I’ve been working on getting that resolved. I’m pleased with the results, but not satisfied. I still have a lot of work to do.”
Faris understands how differently opponents look at UConn’s offense when she is making shots. The Huskies offense, already blessed with diverse and talented scorers, will just become tougher if defenders come outside to watch her, as opposed to doubling-down on others.
“I guess it’s taken me a little too long, unfortunately, to buckle down and put my mind to it,” Faris said. “There is way more confidence than last year and each year I’ve picked up a little more. Right now I feel very good about it.”
If this continues, and even if it doesn’t, Faris projects as a very valuable player in the WNBA. She’s often been referred to as a “glue” player because of her strong fundamentals, defense and rebounding.
But she might be something much more by the time April rolls around. She could be a “core” player by then.
“I didn’t think I was WNBA-ready coming into the season. I knew I had a lot to work on and I still think that know. If I want to play at the next level, and I do, there are things I need to perfect.
“I’m human and I want to keep playing as long as possible. But that’s not why I am doing this. This is not about looking ahead. This is about helping this team right now. We have such a great opportunity here right now.”