Von Pessumal: Mind of a Shooter

Paolo Mariano on Oct 16, 2015 04:33 PM
Von Pessumal: Mind of a Shooter
的 don稚 think about the percentage. If I知 open, I値l take it. If not, I値l make the next best basketball play. If you keep on thinking about the percentage, you値l be more pressured to make the shot. Mamadaliin mo. You will be thrown off your game. I just keep on shooting and let the game come to me. -- Von Pessumal.

To shoot, or not to shoot, that is the question.

For Von Pessumal, it’s almost always the affirmative—and for good reason.

The senior wingman of Ateneo de Manila University is one of the UAAP’s most prolific shooters. He’s second in the league in three-pointers made with 16 and is averaging a career-high 12.6 PPG. While his shooting clip of 29.6% could be better, leaving him open from long range is a capital sin. Because when his shot is on, it’s on.

He’s taken upon the role of resident sniper for the Blue Eagles. He’s a vital cog in their system predicated mostly on perimeter offense. Observing him play, it’s not a stretch to compare him to Rip Hamilton, the former NBA All-Star. Teammates and fans are ready to celebrate each time he attempts a three-pointer. For him, not hoisting an open shot is like betraying his job. After all, taking is the first step in making.

Square up

But it hasn’t always been this way for the 22-year-old Pessumal. In high school, he was more of a slasher with his athletic ability. He helped pilot the Blue Eaglets to three straight titles, earning Mythical Five honors in his final year and a spot in the RP Youth Team.

When he first joined the Blue Eagles, he wasn’t given much license to score, let alone from long distance.

“In high school, I was taller and more athletic than the others. I could easily slash to the lane and finish. It’s a different story in college. I’d always have bigger guys guarding me. I only got to play during garbage time during my first few years,” said Pessumal.

In his rookie year, he only played a total of 12 minutes, scoring a solitary point. It was hard for him to accept his paltry playing time at first, especially being a hotshot player in high school. But in retrospect, he believes everything worked out.

“Looking back now, I’m thankful that I didn’t get to play much before. It gave me a different outlook on basketball. When I watched the other guys play from the bench, I realized I can’t take anything for granted. It motivated me to work hard and make the most out of the minutes given to me,” said Pessumal. “Hindi ako ganito ngayon kung hindi ako nabangko dati.”

In order to get minutes, he knew he needed to change his game. He couldn’t outmuscle and out-jump opponents anymore. He wasn’t as quick as the other wingmen too. But he figured a spot in the Blue Eagles that needed some fine-tuning.

“I had to adapt my game (in college). Ateneo has always lacked a consistent shooter these last few years. I believe the last one was Larry Fonacier,” said Pessumal. “Every team has one. I felt I could fill that role. It would benefit me and the team.”

He also remembers vividly when the realization hit him.

“In my third year, I had this one game against UE (University of the East) when I shot very well. That’s when I realized I could be a commodity if I continue to work to be a prolific shooter,” said Pessumal, who scored 12 points in that game, including two of three three-pointers.

Elbows tucked

Kyle Korver, one of the most accurate shooters in NBA history, has a painstaking 20-point checklist to determine if his shot is on the money. It includes wide stance, engaged core, slightly bent waist, straight elbows, spread fingers, moist lips, etc. Okay, not the last one. But it’s almost insane, really. But it’s almost absurd as well to question the NBA record-holder for highest three-point shooting percentage in a season (a mind-boggling 53.6%).

The 6-foot-2 Pessumal also has a checklist for his outside shot. But it’s a wee bit simpler.

“I only have two indicators,” said Pessumal. “The first one is my leg. My shot is based on balance. I have to be a straight line before taking a shot. My second is my follow through. I like to keep it simple.”

But even if a shooter has mastered the mechanism behind his stroke, it doesn’t guarantee anything. There are days when the ring is as huge as the Grand Canyon and days when it’s as tight as EDSA traffic during Friday rush hour.

In their game against National University (NU) in the first round, Pessumal kept firing and firing—and missing and missing. He bricked all of his eight attempts from beyond the arc. Luckily, Ateneo pulled off a double overtime win thanks to Kiefer Ravena’s heroics. But Pessumal looked dejected after the game. He knew he didn’t do his job well.

“It’s inevitable that I’ll miss a lot of shots. Whenever I do, it stays in the back of my mind. But it also makes me want to get to the gym right away,” said Pessumal. “After that NU game, I woke up at 6 am the next day to shoot at our village court.”

In their next assignment against UE, he tied his career-high with 21 points, including 6-of-10 from rainbow country.

“My coaches and teammates just told me to keep shooting. I stayed confident. I knew I was in rhythm. When I sank the first shot, I knew I had a good stroke today,” said Pessumal after the game.

To which Ravena drolly interjected: “Ganyan din sinabi niya last game.”

Grip the ball

With Pessumal’s fast development into a deadeye shooter, it’s easy to imagine that he takes a bunch of shots during practice. After all, shooting is about repetition and muscle memory. But he doesn’t fully subscribe to that idea. For him, it’s quality over quantity.

“I believe that you don’t have to shoot a lot of shots (during practice). It will only make you tired during game day. If you can be more accurate with fewer attempts, you’ll be more focused. Once I get the feel for my shot during practice, I’m done (shooting),” said Pessumal.

One thing he does during practice though is compete for a three-point shooting title. Well, it’s a belt actually.

It started last season when former Ateneo point guard Nico Elorde brought a replica WWE championship belt to practice. Whoever won the players-only three-point contest brought it home. As of publish time, the belt is with Pessumal.

“I win majority of the time,” shyly admitted the soft-spoken guard. “Sometimes, Arvin (Tolentino) would win. Last year, my main competitors were Nico and Anton Asistio. But I was the one who took it home at the end of the season being the overall winner.”

Shooting isn’t just a physical practice. It’s also a mental exercise. A sniper has to pay attention to the most miniscule details: the speed of release, how to move without the ball, how to maneuver through ball screens, the opponent’s defensive set-up, and other nuances. 

That’s why Pessumal makes it a point to study other shooters diligently.

“My idol is Steph Curry even since his Davidson (College) days. Realistically, I can’t replicate his ball handles. But he’s my inspiration. I also regularly watch YouTube videos of Klay Thompson and Ray Allen,” said Pessumal.

If the game is on the line and he could only pick one to take the shot?

“Allen, no doubt,” answered Pessumal in a heartbeat.

Let it fly

As far as Pessumal remembers, he’s been shooting all his life.

”I’ve played basketball since I was a little kid. Hindi pa umaabot ‘yung tira ko sa ring. Ganun ako kabata nagsimula. I tagged along to my dad’s pickup games (so I can shoot),” said Pessumal, who has studied at Ateneo since prep and has never missed a year of varsity basketball since fourth grade.

Shooters shoot, according to the old basketball tautology. It’s pretty self-explanatory. But where does one draw the line on finding a rhythm and accepting that the shot isn’t just falling? If one misses eight three-pointers in a row, does he still attempt a ninth?

For Pessumal, it isn’t about the numbers. It’s more about playing within the system.

“I don’t think about the percentage. If I’m open, I’ll take it. If not, I’ll make the next best basketball play. If you keep on thinking about the percentage, you’ll be more pressured to make the shot. Mamadaliin mo. You will be thrown off your game. I just keep on shooting and let the game come to me,” said Pessumal. “I’ve taken more than a thousand shots in my career. I can’t expect all of them to go in. I just need to believe in my system, my work ethic.”

He’s enjoying a career year in his final tour of duty with the Blue Eagles. He’s 10th in the league in scoring and ninth in free throw (76.8%) and three-point (29.6%) shooting. It’s easy to see that he’s become a more confident shooter, even pulling up for threes on the break. On defense, he’s still a decent stopper when locked in. He’s a prototype of the so-called “3-and-D”—a player who makes threes and plays defense.

“Before, when I came off the bench, my thought process was to make every open shot and provide energy. But now I’m given heavier minutes, I have to let the game come to me naturally. I have to read the defense and make my teammates better,” said Pessumal.

But despite his productivity, the Blue Eagles’ flight this season has been turbulent, quite surprising for the formidable squad. With the Final Four getting closer and closer, anxiousness in Loyola Heights has been palpable.

“We’re definitely underachieving. There were games when we let our guards down. If I were to put a finger on it, we lost our composure. But that’s not an excuse because we have enough veterans. We should do a better job in leading (our young teammates) in crunch time,” said Pessumal.

Most people, including ones from Ateneo’s own backyard, blame the team’s system for being too reliant on the do-it-all Ravena. Harsher critics blame him outright for not trusting his teammates enough. But Pessumal came to the aid of his longtime running mate.

“Part of it is true, but part of it is more on everybody else. He’s won games for us in the past. If he makes the (game-winning) shot, no one says anything. But when he misses, they talk a lot. He’s over-scrutinized. The situation is magnified. We just need to step up. Plus, knowing Kiefer, he’ll adjust,” said Pessumal. 

Follow through

Time is ticking fast like a bullet pass on the break for the exiting Pessumal. As he learned from his bench-warming days, he’s not taking anything for granted. He doesn’t want to look back and be filled with regrets, especially in his swan song.

“It’s getting closer to the end. It motivates me more. I talk with my former teammates and they say how much they miss playing in the UAAP. Ngayon, ako na ‘yun in a couple of months,” said Pessumal. “Ibibigay ko na lahat for one last push. It’s not for me to coast. There’s no room for mediocrity.”

One last push also means polishing his shooting more. His improved stroke is a product of many things. But for the sweet-shooting veteran, it all boils down to patience and a proper mindset.

“I hate to admit it but there a lot of fake shooters. They shoot a lot but they don’t work hard. If that’s your mentality, you lose credibility,” said Pessumal. “Shooting isn’t about immediate results. It’s all about work ethic. I keep on saying it but it’s true. I put in the hours in the gym. I believe in the process” said Pessumal.

Pessumal didn’t initially plan to be a shooter. But he says he’s all about winning so he developed his technique to do just that. There’s an age-old debate whether shooters are born or bred. There’s still no clear-cut answer.

For Pessumal, the easy hypothesis is one isn’t possible without the other. After all, he’s a living example.

“Shooting is a mix of natural ability and hard work. Even if you work hard but you don’t have the natural sense, the right timing, it’s useless. There are born shooters but don’t put in the work. I don’t mean to discourage others, but for me, ‘working smart’ is the right term. If you work hard, but you’re not smart about it, you’re not going to be good. You have to work tediously,” said Pessumal.

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