Even when his touch leaves him, Elon’s Tanner Samson maintains shooter’s mentality

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Consider this a lesson in shooter’s mentality, Elon senior guard Tanner Samson presiding.

“Definitely I think as a shooter everybody knows you’ll have a lot of good times and some bad times as well,” he said. “I think being a shooter one of the things I’ve learned is just worry about the next shot — maybe be mad if you missed a shot or took a bad one for a couple seconds, then move on to the next play.”

The 6-4 Samson has made more 3-pointers than anyone else in school history – 308 entering Thursday’s game against Delaware. Samson, whose team hosts Towson Saturday on ASN, is second in the Colonial Athletic Association in threes this season (66) and tied for seventh in 3-point percentage (38.8), in addition to being tied for 13th in scoring (13.5) and 13th in free throw percentage (75.6).

Yet he has had a hard time finding the range lately, going 9 of 41 from the arc while scoring just 45 points in his last six games.

It happens, he keeps telling himself. And deep down he knows that’s correct. He knows at some point there will be a progression to the mean. It’s just a matter of riding out this rough patch, and remaining confident that his next shot will go in.

Still, he said, “I don’t think it’s ever easy.”

It helps that his support system is as sturdy as the screens the other Phoenix players continue to set for him.

“My teammates and coaches have done a great job letting me know they believe in me, even when I’ve missed a few in a row,” Samson said. “That’s always good to know they have my back.”

Rediscovering his rhythm is also a matter of putting the time in – repairing to the gym and remembering the fundamentals his dad, Curt, taught him growing up in Littleton, Colo. How it’s important to be balanced, have one’s eyes on the rim, one’s elbow under the ball, etc.

At the same time, Tanner said, “My shot has felt great throughout this whole stretch. Sometimes it just doesn’t go in, but you just have to believe in it: It will be all right. It will come back.”

Goodness knows there are other variables in play. Once a guy has established himself as a sniper, defenders will do everything short of meeting him at the team bus as it pulls up outside the arena. The rule of thumb is to always hug up to such guys, the better to run them off the arc. Or to switch screens, so they won’t get an open look. (And if the defenders do not communicate effectively, this sometimes results in two defenders running at Samson, giving one of the Phoenix’s big men a wide-open chippie. That, Samson said, is “always a great feeling, even if it’s not me scoring. … It’s helping our team.”)

In the face of all that, the idea is to maintain the shooter’s mentality — to have a short memory and look ahead, never behind.

“I’ve learned throughout my career,” Samson said, “it’s always about the next shot.”

His athletic roots are easy enough to trace. His dad played high school ball in Montana, and while Curt did not continue his career at Creighton he met his wife Becky there. She competed in cross country and tennis.

“I’ve got some pretty good genes from my parents,” Tanner said.

The instruction wasn’t bad, either. Curt taught not only Tanner but his older brother Austin and his younger brother Vaughn, all of whom played at Regis Jesuit in Littleton. Vaughn is now a freshman guard at Division III Rhodes College in Memphis.

Tanner, meanwhile, has seen his production increase every year at Elon. Last season he set a school record with 103 3-pointers, which was also the third-highest total in CAA history. And entering the Delaware game he has scored 1,253 points, the school’s 20th-highest all-time total. He is just six behind Drew Spradlin, a 2012 graduate.

Small wonder Samson believes it’s just a matter of time before he rediscovers his stroke. Small wonder he embraces the shooter’s mentality.

Above: Elon’s Tanner Samson knows that when defenders double team him it opens it up for the big men inside to score. (Courtesy University of Michigan Athletics)

Gordie Jones

Gordie Jones is a freelance writer based in Lititz, Pa.