UB Bull Nick Perkins learning under NBA vet Donyell Marshall

Men’s basketball assistant coach Donyell Marshall knows what it takes to be a successful three-point shooting big man. He was a 6-foot-9 power forward in the NBA for 14 seasons known for his three-ball. He even shares the record for most three-pointers in a game (12) with Kobe Bryant.

In order to be successful, a person of that height must use it to their full advantage, he said during the Bulls’ practice in Alumni Arena Monday.

As he spoke, 6-foot-8 freshman forward Nick Perkins continued his everyday practice drills. One shot attempt saw Perkins come up the floor with the ball, stop and shoot. The second had him coming from out of the low post, behind a screen and receiving the ball from one of the coaches and firing a three from the corner.

Marshall gazed on in awe.

It was that drive, Marshall said, that makes him believe Perkins will eventually become a better, more accurate shooter as his college career continues.

“I think he has to know your personnel, who’s guarding you,” Marshall said. “When a big man is guarding you, then you want to have that shot in your arsenal. Keep them off balanced. When you have a smaller player on you, Nick will want to take him down to the post more. It’s having the shot, but it’s also balance. He’s working on that.”

Perkins has been a steady contributor to the Bulls (14-10, 7-4 Mid-American Conference) throughout his freshman season. Injuries to forwards David Kadiri and Raheem Johnson have resulted in Perkins getting more playing time than projected.

He’s averaging 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in more than 18 minutes off the bench.

Not bad for a guy who was playing amongst high school kids eight months prior.

But where Perkins really provides added versatility into the lineup is his three-point and mid-range game. Nearly 40 percent of his shot attempts have come from beyond the arc, and he’s made the fifth most three points on the team this season (20).

Perkins wants more and didn’t shy away in saying so. He rated himself “C” this season, citing he wants “to be more aggressive as the season continues” and he sees himself “working from a slow start earlier into the year.”

If he’s looking for advice on shooting the three as a big man, he doesn’t have to look further than the Bulls’ bench.

Marshall stared at the University of Connecticut from 1991-1994 and shot 24 percent from three-point range as a freshman. He steadily improved his shot, as he finished with 30 percent shooting before heading to the NBA. Marshall took another step forward as a professional. He was a 35 percent shooter from beyond the arc during his career in the NBA.

But Marshall knows it takes more than just putting time in on court, but in the film room and playbook as well.

“As a freshman, or any young person, you just have days,” Marshall said. “Some days, you’re up. You want to come into the gym and work hard. You want to be the main man in the gym. Some days, the energy isn’t there, you want to go home, you just want to get through the practice. He stays hard and works after every practice, and he has to continue that. There will be days … I’ve been there before, but he’ll continue to grow.”

Head coach Nate Oats said Perkins has the skills to shoot the three and a big body to abuse people inside the paint and he’s learning when to use those two different skills. But he too said the major task for Perkins to apply that same progression when preparing.

“With him, it’s learning to focus every day,” Oats said. “Studying scouting reports, where teams want to guard him, he’s coming though. Bigs take time to come along, but him and [Ikenna Smart] are figuring it out.”

As a part of figuring out his game, Perkins spends hours at a time in the gym to prep for his next challenge by working on rotations on defense, his body and taking shots on various parts of the floor – all apart of his everyday work in practice.

With just seven games left before the MAC Tournament, Perkins wants to continue to work on his game, continue to develop into one of the better players on the team. More specifically, he wants to get back to the same “balance” he had in high school.

On Tuesday against Toledo, Perkins began to find some of the balance, finishing with a season-high 17 points in 26 minutes off the bench. He knocked down three of his four 3-point attempts.

“That’s one of the things I had trouble with early in college,” Perkins said, “learning how to balance because in high school, you can do what you do at will, so I kind of did what I wanted. It’s mostly about finding my balance on both sides of the ball. I’m getting there, the coaches have been great and I still want to work on my shot. I’m going to keep getting into the gym and working on it more.”

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HayneTheWriter.