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COLLEGE FOCUS: Pilots pleased with the newest Sharp shooter on The Bluff


by: COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Bobby Sharp adds some long-range shooting to the Portland Pilots' offense.


Bobby Sharp's transition from playing junior college basketball to coming off the bench for the Portland Pilots hasn't been entirely smooth.

But close enough.

Sharp endured a few bumpy moments during his first month or two with the Pilots this summer when the 6-foot-2 junior shooting guard from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College would catch the ball with room to shoot and then zip a pass to Kevin Bailey, Ryan Nicholas or one of the other veterans.

He was trying to demonstrate selflessness, but he also was overdoing it. The Pilots did not add last season’s player of the year from the California Community College Athletic Association's Big 8 Conference so he could pass up open shots.

“I got yelled at a few times,” Sharp said before Friday’s game against Columbia at the Chiles Center. “The coaches said, ‘You won’t be playing if you aren’t taking your open shots.’

“I’m one of those guys, I usually don’t say a whole lot, so I was just trying to fit in and I didn’t want to try to do too much right away. I was trying to define my role and build relationships, and then I had a couple conversations with the coaches about why I was brought here and things like that. I think I finally figured that out.

“If I’m open, they want me to shoot it.”

After five games, Sharp is third in team scoring, averaging 10.8 points a game in 23.8 minutes off the bench, while shooting 41.9 percent (18 for 43) from the field and 39.4 percent (13 of 33) from three-point range.

The three-point numbers are the ones that Portland fans will want to watch this season, because that’s where the Pilots see Sharp making the biggest difference — from beyond that arc.

“Bobby doesn’t know the difference between a good shot and a bad shot,” Pilots coach Eric Reveno said. “Shots are just open or not open, and I think that’s okay for a shooter to think that way. There probably are some nuances there that he’ll learn over time, but I’m not going to bog him down with that heading into game five of the season.

“If he’s getting shots against Oregon State and Michigan State, he’s going to get shots. We need scoring from him and I think he’s got a good internal barometer for when we need some scoring at times and he looks a little bit harder for shots. Regardless, if he’s open, he’ll shoot it, and I want him to.”

As the Pilots trudged to an 11-21 finish last season, everyone connected to the program knew that one of their biggest needs was perimeter shooting. They also figured the best way to fill that void was to go after a junior college player, someone who was more mature, physically and mentally, and with a bit more experience than the typical high school prospect.

The Pilots hit a home run when they plucked T.J. Campbell from the junior college game a few years ago. Maybe they could do it again.

Pilots assistant Colin Pfaff, who had spent some time as the head coach at West Valley Junior College in San Jose, called everyone he had coached with or against in California looking for a shooter who might be ready to make the jump to playing in the West Coast Conference.

“I told them, ‘Don’t worry about size or anything else. Just tell me who is the best shooter you’ve seen this year?’ ” Pfaff said. “I kept hearing the same response: ‘Bobby Sharp.’

“Literally everybody I talked to said he was the best shooter they had seen in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years … Then I called his high school coach, who told me, ‘Colin, he’s the best shooter I have seen, period.’ I thought, ‘I better go see this kid.’ ”

The Pilots were in Moraga, Calif., for a 5 p.m. game against St. Mary’s on the same day Santa Rosa had a 7 p.m. home game against Sacramento City College.

As soon as the final horn sounded in the Pilots-Gaels game, Pfaff jumped in a rental car and raced to Santa Rosa in time to catch the second half of the Bear Cubs-Panthers game.

“I’ll never forget it because Sacramento played a box-and-one against Bobby,” Pfaff said. “They were face-guarding him, and he was getting shots off. He wasn’t making many, but the fact that he’s shooting these shots and his coach is like, ‘Those are great shots,’ you could tell he was a special shooter.”

Sharp was impressed that Pfaff showed up to watch him play, but kept from trying to read too much into the visit.

“I’ve always been one to not get my hopes up,” said Sharp, who played for Tom Bonfigli at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa. “Coming out of high school, I wasn’t really recruited. I had a couple Division II offers, so my goal going to a junior college was to become a Division I player.

“I also wanted to be realistic and not get my hopes up too high, keep focused on the season, and then figure out everything else after that.”

Reveno then made two trips to see Sharp, one to Santa Rosa to watch him work out with his teammates and talk to him one-on-one, and another to San Francisco to see him play in a CCCAA playoff game.

“It’s a little dicey sometimes going to see a prospect play,” Reveno said. “Sometimes he gets in foul trouble or the game goes a certain way and it’s a blowout one way or the other, but Bobby had a good game where he was challenged and he was still able to show what he can do.”

But was Sharp’s game West Coast Conference-worthy? Or were the Pilots taking a risk by extending a scholarship offer to this kid?

“If we had a three-point shooting contest in our league, he could do that skill at an all-WCC level,” Reveno said. “When you have a player that can do one thing at an all-conference level and is willing to work at the other things, it’s not a gamble at all. The gambles are where you’re saying, ‘Well, he’s almost athletic enough. He’s almost skilled enough. He’s almost this, almost that.’ Those are kind of scary.

“But you take a kid who can do one thing … worse case, he becomes a specialist. Best case, he becomes a complete, all-around player that has a special skill that you need.”

Okay, so the Pilots were sold on Sharp. What sold Sharp on the Pilots?

“The relationship with the coaches was the biggest thing,” said Sharp, who also drew interest from Hawaii and UC Riverside. “They were always straightforward with everything they said and always kept in contact. And then another big thing was the league Portland plays in and that there are four teams that are close to Santa Rosa. That’s real nice, too.”

Portland’s reputation as an academic stalwart didn’t hurt, either.

“The school is just different,” said Sharp, who is majoring in organizational communications. “The smallest junior college class has 65-70 kids. Here my biggest class has 22 or 23 and all the professors know your name. In that sense, it’s a lot more helpful.”

On the court, Sharp has had to make a few adjustments, but he said the Division I game is everything he had envisioned.

“It’s different in the sense that all the players have the ability to shoot, drive and pass. At the JC level, there are a lot of athletes that are similar to what I see here, but there it was, ‘this guy can just drive,’ and ‘this guy can shoot.’ Here, for the most part, they’re all triple-threats.”

In Thursday’s 88-74 victory over Idaho, Sharp finished with seven points on 2-for-7 shooting from the field and on a night when the Pilots looked to pound the ball inside.

“We didn’t do much to get Bobby shots,” Reveno said. “He had to step away a little more to get open looks. We ran one play to get him a shot and he got fouled on it, so we ran a couple things, but not much at all. We were just taking what the defense was giving us, so we didn’t have to sit there and micro-manage the game.”

So far, Sharp has held his own at both ends of the floor.

“In terms of Bobby getting more opportunities, his ball-handling, defense and rebounding are solid enough that he’s hard to keep off the floor sometimes,” Reveno said. “He can get his own shots some, but we also need to run good plays and the other guys need to find him. If that’s not happening, he’s still doing other things.

"He had a great play against Michigan State where he ran a simple, little two-man game with Thomas van der Mars. It wasn’t overly complicated. Bobby wasn’t open, he fed the open post, the post got covered and kicked it out to the open shooter, and Bobby knocked down the shot. That makes coaching easy. A guy has an open shot and he makes it … boy, that’s nice.”