- By Ken Sugiura
Georgia Tech forward Abdoulaye Gueye pump faked and rose up with his feet shoulder width apart. Holding the ball at his right shoulder, he rotated his body to face the basket as he lifted off the floor, just shy of the ACC logo below the free-throw line on the McCamish Pavilion floor. Clemson’s Elijah Thomas, 6-foot-9 and long of reach, extended to challenge the 6-9 Gueye. But at the top of his leap, Gueye released a soft hook with his right hand over Thomas that crawled over the front rim, bounced off the back iron and backboard before succumbing and dropping through the basket.
Borne of thousands of shots over hundreds of hours of practice, Gueye’s jump hook is a well-crafted skill.
“Technically, it’s very sound,” assistant coach Eric Reveno said.
Few players in the ACC have improved more from last season than Gueye, and the jump hook, effective with either hand, helps explain the ascent. A year ago, Gueye averaged 10.1 minutes and 1.2 points per game, making 11 of his 28 shots (39.3 percent). In eight ACC games this season, Gueye is averaging 26 minutes and 9.8 points per game. He has made 33 of his 54 shots (61.1 percent).
“He’s much, much improved,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.
In the 72-70 loss to then-No. 18 Clemson on Sunday, he contributed 14 points, scoring on three of Tech’s first four possessions, and piled up eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 38 minutes. It was his fifth double-figure scoring game in the past seven games, stellar work for a player whose career high before the season was a five-point game.
“They kept feeding me,” Gueye said of teammates. “They were doing a great job of feeding me. I just took my time and went to work.”
Against Syracuse’s famed zone Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion, Tech likely will need to keep finding Gueye to have a chance to end its four-game losing streak, a game-plan point that would have seemed highly unlikely even six weeks ago.
“We couldn’t stop him at the beginning of the game,” Brownell said. “Probably were a little surprised at how good he was and how much they went to him, but he was very effective.”
While he does not have enough baskets to qualify for ranking in the ACC in field-goal percentage (players must average five made field goals, and Gueye is seven shy of the total he needs to have that average), only two players in the ACC with as many baskets as Gueye’s 33 are shooting more accurately in league games. The two, Wake Forest’s Doral Moore and Duke’s Wendell Carter (both from metro Atlanta), were elite prospects. Gueye was ranked the No. 304 recruit in the 2014 class by 247 Sports and was redshirted after one season at Tech by former coach Brian Gregory, to give him more time to develop.
“He’s not an overnight success,” Reveno said. “He worked a lot when no one was looking.”
When Reveno was hired to join coach Josh Pastner’s staff in May 2016, he liked what he saw in Gueye – high character, a desire to improve and potential in the form of his height, reach and rudimentary skill.
“Just a lot there,” Reveno said. “But it wasn’t polished.”
Reveno’s charge to Gueye and fellow post men Ben Lammers and Sylvester Ogbonda has been to embrace the monotony of skill work. All three have shown that inclination. Gueye recalls Reveno’s instructions to keep shooting until he was tired.
“They told me you can make a living on it, and then I was just, like, all right,” Gueye said. “So I just kept doing it.”
What Reveno has appreciated about Gueye is that he continued to drill even when the results didn’t materialize. Last season, with the gap between him and Lammers too great, Gueye played sparingly before a season-ending wrist fracture.
“The main thing is for me personally (is) it’s nice for him to have the reward,” Reveno said. “Because it’s not always fair. Guys work hard, and it doesn’t happen. It’s nice for him to work hard and get some improvement.”
Gueye’s range with the jump hook extends to the middle of the lane and a little past the blocks on the baseline. He has an up-and-under, as well. But the jump hook is the principal weapon. Reveno estimates that, from five feet, Gueye can make the jump hook about 70 percent of the time.
“I swear, he has the nicest hook shot I’ve ever seen,” Lammers said. “And he’s just so tall and long, I can’t block it unless I perfectly time it and just jump up. If I’m walling up, you can’t block his shot.”
Beyond that, in eight ACC games, he is averaging six rebounds and has eight assists, seven blocks and five steals. With his quickness and length, Gueye has the versatility to defend guards as well as post men. After his early scoring barrage, Clemson doubled him, and Gueye found guard Jose Alvarado alone under the basket for an easy score.
“He did the work and was prepared, and then when he had that success, it helped his confidence everywhere,” Reveno said. “So he’s even defending a little better, he’s passing better. Everything’s gotten better.”