October 19, 2011
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When Kerry Keating first watched a little-known Houston guard play in April 2007 at the recommendation of one of his assistants, it took quite a bit of imagination for the Santa Clara coach to project future stardom.
"He literally went 3-for-28 and only about half of them were good shots," Keating recalled. "So I can't take all the blame for his shot selection. I inherited some of that."
Thankfully for Santa Clara, Keating had the foresight not to discount Kevin Foster based on one nerves-induced horrific shooting performance.
Foster gradually grew accustomed to not forcing shots or trying to do too much when college coaches evaluated him from the stands. And Keating slowly came to appreciate the shot-happy shooting guard's aggressive, fearless approach rather than regarding it as a drawback.
In the four years since Keating became the first college coach to offer Foster a scholarship, the fourth-year junior has repeatedly rewarded the Santa Clara staff's faith in him. Foster earned WCC co-newcomer of the year as a freshman, sat out due to a foot injury as a sophomore and then propelled the Broncos to the CIT championship last March, averaging a WCC-best 20.2 points per game and leading the nation in three-pointers made and attempted.
"He's about as good a shooter and as good a scorer as there is in college basketball," Keating said. "He's really strong and he's got a great handle, but he's also going to have a lot of defensive attention on him this year. At the top of every scouting report no matter what will be that he's the country's leading three-point shooter. There's no escaping that and there's no changing that."
Few players in the nation received as much freedom to shoot from distance last season as Foster, the centerpiece of a Santa Clara attack that also included promising freshman point guard Evan Roquemore and experienced big men Ben Dowdell and Marc Trasolini.
Foster averaged 10 three-point attempts per game. He put up at least 20 shots in 10 of Santa Clara's last 12 games. His 380 attempted three-pointers were 67 more than Jimmer Fredette shot even though the Broncos' 38 games were only one more than BYU's 37.
With Dowdell having graduated and Trasolini lost for the season due to a torn ACL, Keating has accepted that Foster's shot attempts per game likely won't diminish much. What the fourth-year coach has encouraged Foster to do is to work to improve his 38.6 percent shooting by displaying more patience and developing enough trust in his younger teammates to dish to them for easy looks when double and triple teams come.
"My number of shots can stay right where it is, but the number of makes has to go up," Foster said. "Shot selection is a trust thing. I have faith in my teammates. I have to keep telling myself we've all been working hard and we all can make shots. If I can pass up a contested shot to make an extra pass, sometimes I have to do that. I just have to have faith that our bigs or another guard can make the shot."
Foster's prolific scoring at Santa Clara is no surprise to his friends or family back in Katy, Texas, because they've seen him do this since he was in grade school. In one of Foster's first organized games when he was in second grade, his father Rick recalls him scoring 31 points and hoisting up shots from distances typically well beyond the range of kids that age.
A coach with the Houston Hoops AAU program, Rick Foster placed Kevin and older brother Rodney on several youth teams at one time when they were kids and worked with them daily to hone their jump shots. Kevin recalls taking 500 shots a day during the summer and 200 shots every evening after practice during the school year.
"It's funny that Kevin shoots so many threes because we never practiced them," Rick Foster said with a chuckle. "All our practices were close-in shots because you get more repetition and you develop your form without having to chase down long rebounds and waste a lot of time."
It's difficult to explain why Foster's knack for scoring went unnoticed by top college programs for so long, but everyone close to him as a theory.
Some suggest it's a result of foot and ankle injuries he sustained in junior high that made him an unknown commodity entering high school. Others point to the fact that he lacked prototypical size for a shooting guard or the playmaking skills of a point guard. Keating said it's common for a handful of quality prospects in talent-rich areas to fall through the cracks, though he admits it's surprising Foster was one of those since older brother Rodney played at Rice from 2005 to 2009.
Whatever the reason Texas schools failed to identify Foster early as a potential Division I prospect, there's no denying Santa Clara benefited. When Foster committed to the Broncos prior to the start of his senior year of high school, he had yet to even visit the campus in person and he only had just started to receive interest from Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and a handful of other programs.
"I remember (then-Texas A&M coach) Mark Turgeon asking me how the hell we got him to commit without even visiting?" Keating recalled. "I said, 'I've got a good staff. They did a good job.' His dad liked our structure and discipline and the fact he'd have a chance to play."
Although Foster was perhaps the least heralded member of Keating's inaugural Santa Clara recruiting class, it quickly became apparent he was the most capable of making an immediate impact.
In his fourth career game, he scored 21 points off the bench in a three-point loss at Arizona. Five days later, he lit up Montana for 17 points in his first career start. And by the time he torched Saint Mary's for 31 points in January and 26 in February, word had spread across the WCC that the 6-foot-2 freshman was a shooter worthy of frequent double teams and a hand in the face at all times.
"I've seen box-and-1s, I've had teams switch every down screen and ball screen, I've had guys face-guarding me the entire length of the court," Foster said. "But I'm in really good shape and I have confidence I can get open and get a shot off. That's what I've been doing since I was little."
Foster believes he made the correct decision accepting a scholarship to Santa Clara instead of waiting for a more renowned program to finally show interest. He relishes the chance to lead the Broncos back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996 and has spent the offseason working toward that goal.
In addition to watching film of last year's games to identify examples of when he could have displayed better shot selection, Foster kept his jumper sharp by making an average of 350 shots a day. He also worked on being able to get to the rim going right because that's his weaker side off the dribble. And he did a lot of resistance training with sleds to improve his speed and strength and better prepare him to log 30-plus minutes on what should be a more guard-oriented, fast-paced Santa Clara team this season.
Although Trasolini's devastating injury robbed Santa Clara of its top big men and quieted talk that the Broncos could be a dark horse in the WCC, Foster still believes challenging Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU for the league title is not an unrealistic goal. Santa Clara must replace its entire starting frontcourt and blend eight freshmen with the newcomers, but the Broncos enter the season confident after their unexpected CIT title run last March.
"We're definitely building on what we did last year," Foster said. "We ended on a winning streak and we want to continue that into this year."
More conference previews from the Dagger:
ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer
Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell
Big East: For Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, suspension was a turning point; Big East projections and storylines to watch; Ex-Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette projects the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big East games
Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson
Mountain West: San Diego State out to prove it's no one-hit wonder; MWC projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-New Mexico forward Daniel Faris projects the league; Ranking the 12 best non-league MWC games; Q&A with UNLV guard Anthony Marshall