Fort Wayne vs. Kentucky: Mastodon star needs to shine (and shoot) against ‘Cats

Fort Wayne redshirt junior guard John Konchar blocks out teammate Matt Holba in a practice drill recently at the Gates Sports Center. (By Tom Davis of
Fort Wayne men's basketball coach Jon Coffman speaks to his team while redshirt freshman center Dylan Carl listens in a practice recently at the Gates Sports Center. (By Tom Davis of
The Fort Wayne men's basketball team practices recently at the Gates Sports Center. (By Tom Davis of
Fort Wayne redshirt junior guard John Konchar defends teammate Bryson Scott in a practice drill recently at the Gates Sports Center. (By Tom Davis of

This is the second in a series of stories as takes you behind the scenes of Fort Wayne’s preparation for its men’s basketball game at 4th-ranked Kentucky Wednesday.

If there was an iconic moment from Fort Wayne’s historic upset of nationally-ranked Indiana last season, it had to be Mastodon guard John Konchar driving and throwing down a left-handed smoke-job on Indiana forward Juwan Morgan and center Thomas Bryant.

That type of play probably won’t be replicated when the Mastodons (3-1) visit No. 4-ranked Kentucky (4-1) Wednesday at 8 p.m. (SEC Network). However, fourth-year Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman wants Konchar to be that aggressive offensively, not just against the vaunted Wildcats, but all season long.

“We’ve really worked with him,” Coffman told recently, “aggressively catching the ball so that he can increase his volume at the offensive end.”

So far that strategy is working, slightly.

Konchar was third on the Mastodons a year ago in shot attempts – by a long way – and he is third again this season. However, he took 13.8 percent of his team’s attempted shots as a redshirt sophomore and that number has grown to 15.6 this year. All of this despite the fact that he, far and away, leads Fort Wayne in minutes played.

His coach may want him shooting more, but Konchar hasn’t been consumed with “increasing his volume” of shots, so far.

“I don’t really set my own goals,” Konchar said in the preseason. “I prefer team goals.”

Pressed for some type of individual growth and Konchar finally relented and said that he “wanted to be a great passer,” which has to make Coffman sigh at times.

“We found,” Coffman explained, “by watching video over the past two years, often times, (Konchar) is making the extra pass, not necessarily because it is the best play, because a lot of times, the best play is for him to shoot it.”

“When you are shooting in the mid-60s (63.7 percent) from two and over 50 percent from three (51.7 percent to be exact), sometimes the best shot is just being ready to shoot the ball.”

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Konchar struggled offensively in the Mastodons’ most recent victory, a road win at UIC, Saturday. He made a shot just 1:32 into the game, but finished the game having made only that shot in 10 attempts. It was his worst shooting performance of his career, but having said that, Coffman’s strategy won’t change Wednesday.

“Some of our play-actions that we run,” Coffman said, “we may create some isolation plays that we have for him in the past. But really, the way that we play, it is equal opportunity and sharing the ball. We’re taking what other teams are giving us.”

“(Konchar) is going to have the ball in his hands a lot. We have worked really hard with John this off-season on getting catches with ‘ready feet.'”

Konchar has taken double figure shots in three of Fort Wayne’s four games, but his percentage of makes overall has plummeted, particularly after last Saturday’s outing.

If you dismiss the UIC game, Konchar was making less than 49 percent of his shots overall this season, though it is early. But he had still made 50 percent of his 3-point shots. Surprisingly, Coffman is cool with that (with maybe the 1 of 10 game being the exception).

“There are probably very few coaches out there in the country,” Coffman said, “that are really pushing players with ‘You’re going to have a great year, and your efficiency is probably going to go down.’ I’m OK with that with John.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.