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November 22, 2012

McFadden seeing things differently on court

The little things tend to carry a significant impact in basketball. Mathematicians dove into Gordon Hayward's last second heave for Butler in the 2010 NCAA Championship Game against Duke and determined an adjustment of just an inch or two would have meant a heroic shot for the ages.

Heroics aside, even the most minute details can determine whether an entry pass to a cutting wing results in a tomahawk jam or a deflection out of bounds. Do the guard's eyes give the pass away to the defenders? Is the wing timing his run right so he can be in open space?

It's the little details such as those that Mike McFadden can finally see on the court. The Robert Morris junior revealed this week that he's wearing contacts for the first time in games.

"It feels good being able to see on the court," McFadden said after Robert Morris' 71-62 win over Cleveland State on Tuesday. "This is actually my first time being able to see on the court for once, playing basketball."

Catch McFadden anywhere else on campus and you'll spot him with his glasses. But he didn't wear anything on the court despite needing glasses for a large portion of his high school and college career. He simply tried to do without.

"I tried contacts when I played in high school but they didn't work out for me so I just gave up on it and continued to play basketball without them," McFadden said.

McFadden played well enough to get a scholarship offer to Iona, where he averaged 15.8 minutes per game and 4.6 points per game as a freshman. Unhappy with the situation at Iona, as well as his role because of an injury at the start of his sophomore year, McFadden transferred to Robert Morris and received a redshirt for his injury. He sat out until December of 2011 to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, and in 25 minutes per game last year he averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds per game for RMU.

"I averaged 8 and 4 last year and I felt like I could have played better," McFadden said. "A lot of lay-ups that I was missing last year I'll probably be making this year now that I have contacts and can see the basket."

Is it really that simple for the 6-foot-8, 220-pound junior? Can simply being able to see better on the court mean an increase in production? Andrew Toole thinks something else might be at play for McFadden.

"I don't know how much the vision has to do with it," the Robert Morris coach said. "I do know in the spring and summer, Mike worked really hard on not only his back-to-the-basket game, but his face-up game. His free throw shooting has improved."

It has, almost remarkably so. McFadden shot 62.7 percent from the line as a freshman and just 52.2 percent from the stripe last year at Robert Morris. Through six games, McFadden is sinking free throws at an 83.3 percent clip, second only to the unflappable Velton Jones from the line among RMU players with eight or more attempts.

The rest of McFadden's production has also improved. He's averaging 9.5 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game through six contests, including a season high 15 points against Cleveland State on Tuesday. Toole said it's the byproduct of an offseason work regimen that impressed McFadden's teammates.

"He put in work and so we're making an effort to make sure he's getting his touches and getting the ball in areas where he can score," Toole said. "His teammates see that he's put in the work and so they're much more comfortable throwing the ball inside to him and letting him do his thing."

McFadden did his thing a variety of ways against Cleveland State. He took the ball in the post, spun around to face-up his defender, and scored off the dribble. He came off a screen to duck behind the defense and score on a lay-up. And he cut along the baseline to take a pass from Jones and slam it home.

"We want to get the ball into the paint and Mike's probably our best option to do that," Toole said. "We're going to have to be continue to be creative to get balls into the post."

One other stat stands out alongside the free throw percentage as the most surprising: Through six games, McFadden is averaging two steals per game, the most on the team.

McFadden says that's a perfect example of how his improved vision has helped his play.

"Without my contacts, I wasn't able to read player's facial expressions and what they were looking at," McFadden said. "It was blurry for me. Now everything is clear and I know exactly who they're going to throw to. I can be prepared for anything that's going to happen."

The end result is a more confident McFadden. He's fouling less, playing more, and he's helped RMU handle a couple of physical teams and improve to 3-3 after an 0-2 start.

"He put in time," Toole said. "And I think when you put in time, the result is you're confident in what you're doing."

Maybe it's his improved vision. Maybe it's the hours of work in the offseason, like Toole believes. Maybe it's another case of a college basketball player simply getting better from his sophomore to junior season.

Maybe it's a little of all of that. But whatever the case may be, the result is the same. As long as McFadden maintains his confidence and productivity, Robert Morris might have its most consistent threat in the post since the 2010 NCAA Tournament team.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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