Scholl on a roll – D3hoops

baptiste-giabiconi  > basketball >  Scholl on a roll – D3hoops

Tommy Scholl was shooting just 5-for-34 from three-point range entering the conference tournament, and was averaging just 3.5 points per game.
Stevens athletics photo

By Riley Zayas

There’s a humility evident through Tommy Scholl’s words as he talks on this particular Tuesday afternoon, days after he put together one of the most memorable breakout performances in recent MAC Freedom basketball history.

The Stevens freshman isn’t one to take much credit for himself, and that is clear as he chooses instead to direct much of the praise bestowed on him towards the leadership and play of his teammates.

Nobody would have blamed him if he had walked out of Billera Hall Gymnasium with a chip on his shoulder Saturday afternoon, having earned tournament MVP honors after helping the Ducks clinch their second NCAA Tournament bid in three seasons. But he took a different approach.

“A big part of it was trusting my teammates,” Scholl said genuinely. “They set me up to succeed. We talk about in practice every day how we like to stack days. We go hard every day. If I make them in practice, I know that I can [make them in the games]. It’s just the trust my teammates have in me to pass me the ball and take a shot like that.”

He took five shots in Saturday’s narrow 54-53 win against DeSales and made four of them, setting a career-high with 16 points in the process. A native of Fairfield, Connecticut, the guard went a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s MAC Freedom title game, following up on an 11-point performance in the semifinal against Arcadia three days prior.

Not a bad showing for a freshman who entered the semifinal averaging 3.0 points per game and had scored in double digits just twice previously in his first collegiate season.

“Tommy’s growth has been steady throughout the year, always on an upward trajectory,” Stevens head coach Bobby Hurley noted. “He has gained a stronger understanding of what is needed from him and how he can best impact the game.”

The trajectory of Scholl’s season, as Hurley pointed out, is what makes his role in Stevens’ run to the national tournament that much more notable. He came into a program with an established — and accomplished — starting five at the beginning of this season and played just six minutes in the season opener at Catholic. Four months later, he led the Ducks in scoring in the biggest game of their season.

It is an overused cliche, but freshmen become sophomores, and in the case of Scholl, that development has been visualized over a 27-game span. His decision-making, for one, has improved tremendously, Hurley said. And his 3-point shooting? His confidence did not waver even after starting the season 5-of-34 from long range. Over the past two games, Scholl is 6-of-10 from beyond the arc.

“He is a confident player and he has been able to combine that with better game knowledge,” Hurley added. “So his decision making is now looking more like a sophomore versus a first-year.”

Scholl still reflects on the Ducks’ first scrimmage of the season against NYU, as the pace of play stuck out immediately. It was certainly a “Welcome to the college level” kind of moment for Scholl, who was already used to playing quality competition at Fairfield Prep. He had been a McDonald’s All-American nominee there, and additionally, had witnessed his share of Yale basketball games during high school, as his father, Eric, serves as Yale’s PA announcer. But it was a different experience being in the middle of the action at the college level, as compared to high school.

“I checked in [to the scrimmage], and it was just up-down, up-down,” Scholl recalled. “The speed of the game is really the biggest thing I noticed. The older guys who have been playing at that speed for a while were very helpful in adjusting.”

Scholl’s story cannot be told without the mention of those upperclassmen, of which there are many, who helped guide both him and fellow first-year Xander Singh — who has made 27 starts — through their first collegiate seasons. Stevens’ starting five is composed of graduate students Stephen Braunstein and Conor Coffey, senior Mike Goodall, junior Jack Spellman, and Singh, which puts plenty of experience on the floor, setting both an example and giving Scholl confidence as he has taken charge as of late.

“It is incredibly valuable,” Hurley said, when asked about the impact the upperclassmen have had on the development of his young players so far. “I think the experience and leadership of our group have been a huge reason for the success of our young guys. Not only are they supportive, but they push and coach the younger guys with our team goals always in mind.”

Scholl echoed that sentiment, and noted that the first unit has set a standard he seeks to uphold each and every time he comes off the bench. Hurley describes the 6-3 guard as “a spark plug” and a player whose effort level “rubs off on his teammates.”

“They do a really good job of holding each other accountable and setting the expectations high,” Scholl said. “One thing we do focus on when we, the second unit, do check in, is that the energy can’t drop. We need to make sure we raise [the energy] as opposed to checking in and being a little slow. Because they’re always great at starting and really getting into it early in the game.”

Needless to say, Stevens’ roster is loaded with talent. Spellman’s 108 blocks are the most in the country, Coffey’s 140 assists are tied for 14th nationally, and Braunstein averages 17.1 points per game, ranking third in the league. And that is just a limited sample size.

“If you look at the team we have now — Jack Spellman leading the country in blocks, Conor Coffey up on the leaderboard for assists per game, Stephen Braunstein is scoring 17 points per game — we have a lot of guys who have significant roles that are very prominent.”

So with all the talent around him, how does a first-year player go about finding his role, especially when the transition from the high school level to the college ranks is still in effect?

“Coming into the scene, I always knew that my role would be kind of energy and defensive-driven,” Scholl said. “I take a lot of pride in that, and that was something that was instilled from my AAU coaches and my parents even, working hard. [Whether that be] diving on the floor, taking a charge here or there, I think that’s where I kind of started my role. As opportunities arose, I was able to take some shots and almost expand my role a little bit.”

With his expanded role has come additional minutes as Stevens’ season pushes forwards into the NCAA Tournament. Over the last five games, Scholl has averaged 16.6 minutes per contest, a significant increase from the 7.2 minutes he averaged in the five games prior to this most recent stretch.

He came into the season understanding his role might be limited, but took advantage of the opportunities he had, both in practice and in the game settings. Some nights, such as in a Nov. 18 wins over Scranton, he saw 20 minutes of action. And in others, the Jan. 31 loss at Arcadia is a good example, he saw as few as three minutes on the court.

But the mentality has always been geared towards his overcall contributions to Stevens’ overall pursuit of success. So when his number was called in the MAC Freedom tournament, and the Ducks needed him the most, Scholl answered the bell with poise.

“Tommy has a great approach,” Hurley said. “He’s always positive, coachable, and he’s a quick learner. He has continued to grow and improve this season, and last week, we got to see it come together with two great performances in two very big games for us.”

With luck, Stevens will have two more “big games” in the weekend ahead, as the Ducks travel south to Farmville, Virginia, for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Farmingdale State, the champion out of the Skyline Conference, is Stevens’ first test on Friday evening. Scholl’s first postseason has already yielded plenty of memorable moments, and the Stevens faithful can only hope that string of success carries over for both him and the Ducks when the ball is tipped inside Kirby Field House.

“It was definitely the goal since day one,” Scholl said of reaching the NCAA Tournament. “We talked about it, and we weren’t shy about talking about it. This is where we’ve wanted to be since the first day of practice. We know destiny lies in our own hands. It’s March. Upsets happen. We want to be on the right side of that.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *