After every practice, sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. works on his jump shooting with assistant coach Aaron McKie.
He takes 3-point shots at five different spots, both corners and wings and the top of the key, and doesn’t stop until he makes five in a row from each spot. Alston spent more time in the left corner than any other spot on Jan. 24, so he could improve where he said he struggles.
Earlier that day, he talked to former Owls’ guard Will Cummings, who finished his career in 2015 as a 1,000-point scorer. Alston was coming off of two 25-point games in a row, but he said Cummings told him the team had to start winning some games.
Alston delivered the next day with a 22-point performance in a win against Memphis that ended the Owls’ three-game losing streak and stopped the Owls (11-11, 2-7 American Athletic Conference) from falling below .500 for the first time since their 1-2 start. He also passed junior forward Obi Enechionyia as the team’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game.
“He’s pretty talented now,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. He can really shoot some deep threes, he’s got a nice hesitation crossover jumper there and he can get by you. He’s got the full package. I’m impressed with him.”
Alston’s three-game streak of 20-point games ended Saturday when he scored nine points against Houston.
Alston has always had a taste for big moments.
He remembers watching the Owls’ Jan. 2, 2010 game against the University of Kansas. A sold-out crowd filed into the Liacouras Center to watch Temple try for its eighth straight win against the top team in Division I.
Six years later, Alston Jr. was in the starting lineup for the Owls’ game against No. 1 Villanova in front of a sold-out home crowd. He was fulfilling a dream.
He started another Big 5 game in front of an electric Liacouras Center crowd in Temple’s season-opening win against La Salle on Nov. 11. Two weeks later, the Owls defeated West Virginia University, currently No. 18 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, to win the Preseason National Invitation Tournament.
Alston Jr. had eight points, six assists, two blocks and three steals against the Mountaineers after scoring a then career-high 22 points the day before against a ranked Florida State University team. He said he felt like he could handle anything on the basketball court after playing against West Virginia’s press defense. Coach Fran Dunphy said Alston “came of age” during the tournament.
“Shizz is a player who constantly is growing,” senior forward Mark Williams said. “He’s growing right in front of all our eyes. … Whenever we get down in the shot clock or even down in games, Shizz is managing games for us, making huge shots, shooting the ball really well so you know he’s playing huge for us.”
Alston came to Temple last season as a four-star recruit ranked No. 96 in the ESPN 100. He received 16 offers in high school but chose to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Levan Alston Sr. averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists in 63 games for the Owls from 1994-96 to help Temple reach the first round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament and the second round in 1996. After his career ended, Alston Sr. became a mentor to players like Lynn Greer and Dionte Christmas, both of whom finished their careers among the top five scorers in program history.
Alston Jr. only averaged 10.1 minutes per game in 2015-16 but leads the team with 35.7 minutes per game this season. He said that playing at the same school his father played at doesn’t add any pressure.
“I just try to go out there and be better than him, so that’s my only thing, is trying to be better than him,” Alston Jr. said. “And he did some great things here and I just want to do great things too.”
Alston and sophomore guard Trey Lowe played Amateur Athletic Union basketball on Team Final as high school juniors. St. Joseph’s sophomore guard Lamarr Kimble, Villanova redshirt-freshman Donte DiVincenzo and Sacramento Kings rookie shooting guard Malachi Richardson also played on the team.
Each tried to prove they were the best guard in the country in practices against each other. At the end of the season, Alston led the team in steals per game and was second in points, rebounds and assists per game.
Alston also played with Milwaukee Bucks first-year power forward Thon Maker at a basketball camp and against Brooklyn Nets rookie Isaiah Whitehead.
Alston wants to play professionally, too. McKie, who played in the NBA from 1994-2007 after three seasons with the Owls, wants Alston to perfect his midrange and 3-point jumpers, so he can succeed at the next level.
In his three-game streak of scoring 20 or more points, Alston shot 45.2 percent from 3-point range.
“I just feel like I’m a great shooter, so whenever I see the ball go in I feel like I can have a great night,” Alston said. “So whenever I hit one three, I know I can make another one after that.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.