June 24, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – At this point, with the season nearly five months away, JP Kambola isn’t looking at the 2014-15 basketball season as his last chance at Marshall.
The 6-foot-9 Canadian views it as his best chance.
During the Herd’s limited summer workouts, Kambola said he has learned plenty, and one thing is that his abilities fit well into the open floor system of new Coach Dan D’Antoni.
Last season, Kambola was held out of competition and practices for a pending eligibility issue. Now, he’s pointing toward a senior season where he and D’Antoni see the Toronto native as a contributor.
In two seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13), Kambola played only 51 minutes in 20 games, scoring 10 points with 11 rebounds. He’s sat out 2010-11 to retain eligibility, so he hasn’t played much hoops since his 2009-10 senior year at St. Benedict’s (N.J.) High.
“I haven’t played much in, what, more than three years,” Kambola said. “I feel like I’m starting to get my feel back for the game, getting comfortable. It will come. I know it will.
“Coach (D’Antoni) keeps my confidence up. He’s showing a lot of confidence in me, which allows me to get back. Getting in shape will help me a lot, and that’s a big part of what I’m trying to work on this summer.
“I think I fit pretty well in this system. We’ve spoken a lot about how he wants to spread the court, and I feel I fit well that way, more than a traditional big man, post up on the block, back to the basket. Now, it’s about a lot of space, get some shots up.”
Kambola weighed 265 pounds during his freshman season, but now he’s down to 242. He figures he can get to a “good playing weight” at 235.
“I need to get my legs strong,” Kambola said. “I’m losing a lot of weight, so I’m losing my strength. I’ve got to get a lot stronger in my upper body, my core, and my back and my legs. The main emphasis is working on my legs so I don’t stumble as much. That’s the biggest aspect.”
Kambola regularly drains 3-pointers in practice, and his mid-range jumper is more polished than many of his shorter teammates, too. He has the athleticism to help the Herd – witness his 25:09.9 clocking last Saturday as D’Antoni’s team ran in the West Virginia 5K Championship in Huntington. That was the second-best time among the Herd, edged only by guard Austin Loop (25:09.2).
“He’s getting in shape,” D’Antoni said. “No. 1, I thought that was the biggest thing. I thought he was weak, legs weak, wasn’t in shape. He hadn’t played, so that was understandable, but not acceptable. He’s lost weight and made strides.
“How he fits into the system is he’s a great shooter and he’s a big man who can do multiple things. He’s not the prototype of running down the floor, standing in the post, holding his hand up, back to the basket, give me the ball. He can step out, handle the ball.
“He could be back-to-the-basket. The problem is when they’re a back-to-the-basket guy and that’s all they do. JP’s not like that. So there are times he will be in there, especially when they switch, pick and rolls and things. He can drag a little one down in there and punish him.
So, in the way I like to play, the floor has to stay spaced, so he has to do more than post up. He’s also one of our best 3-point shooters.”
Kambola said the style of play that the San Antonio Spurs used en route to the 2014 NBA title – similar to that espoused by the D’Antoni brothers – Mike and Dan – gives the versatile big man more than one role.
“I guess I’d be a 4 or a 5,” Kambola said when asked his position in the D’Antoni system. “I don’t know … In his offense, everybody seems to be out on the perimeter so there is no traditional 5 position. Just because a 5 is guarding you doesn’t mean you’re a typical 5. With him, I believe I can be a stretch 5, if that’s possible.
“His style of play is more comfortable to me. I just feels right. It just feels like it’s more ‘me’ than being a traditional 5 and putting my back to the post. It’s just the way he does things. He has a lot of experience at the NBA level, developing players there, so he knows a lot and he’s teaching us a lot.
“Right now, we’re in the teaching process. We’re doing a lot on spacing and how to set screens and stuff. Spacing is important to him. The Spurs show what spacing can do, so that’s his emphasis, move defense where it doesn’t want to go. There’s that, and having confidence in every guy on the floor is what it comes down to.”
D’Antoni said Kambola took to the Herd’s new coaching staff with the right attitude, too.
“Spacing is huge in our offense, they all better learn that because if they don’t, I’ve got to find some who will learn it,” the Marshall coach said. “Spacing is huge, hard cuts, huge, how to run pick and rolls, huge, being able to make reads off teammates – that it’s not just about you and the ball.
“It’s about you and the relationship to five guys on the floor. And it’s about that relationship to get you open, not just and-1 moves that you learned on TV.
“Kids like to play. JP’s got to do things right, and he is. We think, as a staff, we’re giving these kids a great opportunity. We treat them with respect, while at the same time pushing them as far as they can be pushed. If you teach people to work hard, teach people to be happy, teach people to get along with people, that’s a better life than anything else you can choose.”