GOSSAGE: Shayok enters 2016-17 with new mindset
Junior guard Marial Shayok is playing with more bounce in his step and self-confidence through three games this season than ever before, thanks to lifestyle changes he underwent in the offseason.
“I feel great. I don’t get as tired as easily,” Shayok said. “It’s definitely helped throughout this summer and fall. I’m going to continue to eat healthy and work on my body. I lost about 20 pounds.”
Specifically, Shayok has learned to lay off the oily pizza and cookies that tempt college students as both dining-hall fixtures and late-night options.
The Ottawa, Ontario native leads a balanced Virginia offense in scoring, with his 12.7 point-per-game average. Shayok tallied a game-high 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting Saturday afternoon in the Cavaliers’ 62-38 win over Yale. Once again, he did so as the team’s sixth man.
“Marial obviously brings a scoring punch,” coach Tony Bennett said. “He’s a hard-playing defender and offensively, he’s aggressive. I like that. You could easily start a number of guys with this group, but Marial has really done a good job and brought some life when we needed it.”
In his freshman season, Shayok was the only Virginia rookie to appear in all 34 games. He averaged just 3.8 points and 1.8 rebounds, but there were several contests in which his overall performance stuck out. At Maryland, Shayok finished with nine points, five rebounds and four assists. Against Miami, he totaled nine points and five boards; at Wake Forest, seven points, five rebounds and four assists.
New to the unique pressure of postseason play, Shayok chipped in seven points and three rebounds against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and six points versus Michigan State in what turned out to be the Sweet 16 heartbreaker.
Despite being a valuable contributor to the team, Shayok didn’t make a noticeable jump in consistency from his first season to his second. At times, he knocked down tough shots off the dribble, which provided a big lift to an offense that relied primarily on catch-and-shoot looks off of ball screens. But at other times he drove wildly into traffic, only to lose hold of the basketball, and exuded fatigue or flat footedness on both ends of the court.
Shayok made eight starts and appeared in all 35 games a year ago. His averages improved slightly to 4.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. Apart from his free-throw percentage, which fell from 63 percent as a freshman to 54.8 as a sophomore, Shayok increased in efficiency. He shot 49.2 percent from the floor and a stellar 43.6 percent from three-point range, second to then-junior London Perrantes’ 48.9 percent rate.
Just as in his freshman year, Shayok had moments of promise throughout the season. He scored in double figures on seven occasions, including a career-high 17 points against Long Beach State, 10 points in the Cavaliers’ ACC semifinal win over Miami, and 12 points — 10 of which came in a nerve-racking second half — against Butler to help his team advance to the Sweet 16.
He flashed the talent and the feel, but it took the initiative to transform his body for Shayok to become the player he is now. His knees are under less stress, and he’s a smoother athlete because of it.
Shayok is the veteran face of a Virginia trio — comprised of himself, redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite and freshman guard Kyle Guy — that Yale coach James Jones labeled “tremendous,” after the game Saturday. Diakite produced only five points but added seven rebounds and four unbelievable blocks, while Guy scored 12 points and hit a couple off-balance threes. All three Cavaliers have great mindsets coming off the bench.
“Prior to going in you get to see the field,” Shayok said. “And then you play as hard as you can and try as hard as you can to see and contribute and just fit in with the guys already playing.”
Although it’s still early in the 2016-17 season and the level of competition hasn’t reached its peak, don’t assume Shayok is going to drop off in confidence and production. He will have the occasional off-night, but there’s no question Shayok is a much-improved basketball player.