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VOL. 43 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 13, 2019

‘He never misses’: VU’s Nesmith a 3-point machine

By Chip Cirillo

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Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse watched in amazement as Aaron Nesmith kept making 3-pointers during a shooting drill at practice. “From 100 shots, five spots-20 shots, two days ago he had 91,” Stackhouse said on Dec. 3. “Ninety-one, that’s Allan Houston-type numbers.”

Houston was known for his 3-point shooting prowess with the New York Knicks and the Tennessee Volunteers.

But Stackhouse, who played in the NBA for 18 seasons, wasn’t finished with the comparisons.

“I can’t even put myself with that,” Stackhouse said. “I’m about 80.”

Nesmith, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, is making a name for himself with his shooting beyond the arc.

The Commodore wing entered the week ranked second in the nation with 4.38 3-pointers per game and seventh in 3-point percentage (51.5).

“A lot of our plays are designed to get him 3s because he’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen at this level,” Stackhouse adds.

Nesmith estimates he takes “200-plus” 3-pointers each day at practice.

“It’s just like free throws,” Nesmith says. “Same routine, same motion. Make sure your elbows are in, make sure you flick your wrists to follow through. Taking a picture.”

Nesmith leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 22.8 points per game for the Commodores (6-2).

“(Nesmith) is a shooter and he’s very fluid,” Texas A&M-Corpus Christi coach Willis Wilson said after a loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 11. “He knows how to play slow to fast, so he knows how to probe, he knows how to be patient, he knows where his shots come from and he knows how to get to those spots on the floor.”

Nesmith shoots 51.5% from 3-point range, 52.5% from the floor and 79.3% from the free-throw line.

He is one of 46 players named to the U.S Basketball Writers Association’s watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, awarded to the men’s national player of the year. Duke’s Zion Williamson won it last season.

“He never misses,” Austin Peay coach Matt Figger pointed out after falling to Vandy on Nov. 20. “He’s got size, a picture-perfect jump shot. I’ve known the kid since he was a freshman in high school because I was at South Carolina (as an assistant coach) when he was at Porter-Gaud.”

Nesmith was named the South Carolina Gatorade player of the year after his senior season at Porter-Gaud. He led the Cyclones to three consecutive state titles and scored 2,067 career points.

“I’ve known that young man since high school,” South Carolina State coach Murray Garvin said after a loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 22. “He is a South Carolina native, and I’m very familiar with high school and AAU programs. I think coach Stackhouse is really going to help him prosper into being a pro.”

Nesmith scored 20 points, including four 3-pointers, against South Carolina State.

“Vanderbilt does an excellent job of getting the ball to Nesmith in spots where he can be very successful,” Garvin said. “He’s so athletic, he understands his strengths. He does a good job of just doing what he’s capable of doing. He’s excellent at the catch and shoot.

“I think they run a lot of set plays to get him shots and you have to have a big guard that is just as athletic as him to guard him. He’s worked himself into being a fabulous player.”

Nesmith’s older brother, Eddie, is a senior at Harvard who plans to attend medical school. “We’re definitely opposites,” Nesmith acknowledges. “I’m the athlete, he’s the bookworm. Yeah, he used to lock himself in his room until, like, 2 or 3 in the morning just doing schoolwork. He’s ridiculous.”

Aaron is downplaying his academic performance slightly, considering he was named to the First-Year SEC Academic Honor Roll as a freshman.

His future will probably be in pro basketball where Nesmith is projected as a 2020 NBA Draft pick.

Playing for Stackhouse, a two-time all-star, should groom him for the NBA.

“From a guy who’s been there for 18 years and just knows the game inside-out, it’s just been wonderful to learn everything he has to offer,” Nesmith says. “He’s been where I want to go, so I’ve got to take everything he says and put it to use.”

Defenses are starting to focus on Nesmith, opening the court up for other players. Saben Lee scored a career-high 25 points in a win against Buffalo on Dec. 3.

“It opens up everyone’s game,” Lee says. “Aaron, the way he’s been playing, he helps us offensively a lot just with his presence so he helps everyone on this team get their open looks.”

Buffalo guard Antwain Johnson shadowed Nesmith closely, holding him eight points below his average.

“I just knew, especially a guy like that, a good player, you can’t let him get going,” Johnson explains. “My main thing was running him off the 3-point line, so even if he did score on me or shoot a shot – he had to go, like, in the paint and drive.”

Nesmith’s versatility makes him a difficult player to guard.

“He’s a triple threat,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said after handing Vanderbilt its second loss of the season on Nov. 30. “I mean, he can score off the bounce, he can score shooting 3’s, he’s got a midrange (jumper).”

Nesmith can score on all three levels and if he gets fouled, he punishes opponents at the free-throw line.

“He’s pretty big and he can shoot the lights out of the ball, so that’s what makes him really hard to guard,” Tulsa guard Elijah Joiner says. “If you put a hand in his face, he still can shoot.”

Unselfishness is one of Nesmith’s best traits.

“He’s not hunting them,” Stackhouse adds. “He’s allowing the game to come to him. I can’t remember one that he really forced. When a guy’s got it going the way he’s got it going, you could take a bad one or two.”

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