The team bus was late, so Iowa guard Chris Kingsbury sat down at
a grand piano in the lobby of the East Lansing Holiday Inn last
January, cracked his knuckles and started taking requests. His
teammates, figuring they were in for a stirring rendition of
Chopsticks, stepped close to the piano for a good pregame
chuckle. Instead, Kingsbury, who took lessons as a child and has
the ability to reproduce songs he has heard only once, captured
the attention of everyone in the lobby with a medley of pop,
rock and classical tunes. "Everybody gathered around thinking he
was some dude they hired to entertain the guests," says teammate
Jess Settles. "We were all amazed. He played just about
everything people asked for--from Def Leppard to Bach."
Kingsbury's concert should come as no surprise: The kid's range
has always been grand.
Two hours later, onstage inside Michigan State's Breslin Center,
Kingsbury tickled the Spartans for 29 points with a performance
that included six treys from distances MSU coach Jud Heathcoat
estimated to be "around 90 miles out." Kingsbury, who led Iowa
in scoring last year as a sophomore, with 16.8 points per game,
averaged nearly four three-pointers a game in Big Ten
competition in 1994-95. On his way to breaking every school
game, season and career three-point shooting record in just 60
games, the 6'5", 215-pound Kingsbury earned national acclaim for
his collection of shots, some launched from nearly 30 feet. His
range has produced a new stat for Iowa home games: the parquet
"The parquet squares are four feet by four feet," says a
facility manager at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "The students count
how many squares back he is, then do the math in their heads."
And Iowa color man Mac McCausland does some calculating of his
own to pinpoint the origin of the latest trey, finally coming up
with "Kingsbury from, awmygosh, awmygosh, 30 feet? Is that
right? He may have let that one go from Ann Arbor, folks."
Even Spartan commentator Greg Kelser, whose team won 69-68 that
night in East Lansing, blurted out, "I don't know if anyone's
driveway is big enough to practice that shot."
Actually, Kingsbury's court at home in Hamilton, Ohio, a suburb
of Cincinnati, can accommodate shots four feet beyond what
remains of a three-point arc (it has been all but rubbed out by
years of practice). This hoop, illuminated by floodlights, is
where the King first ruled.
This is where he learned to leave the floor with the balance of
an Olympic diver: right elbow high, shot arc so fluid it should
have a pot of gold at the end. Before each game Kingsbury
finishes his warmup with a half-court shot. Not a lunging heave
but a jumper with the effort most players would give a free
throw. He rarely needs more than one try to hit the shot, so
he's thinking about backing up to the top of the opponent's key.
"I shoot as well off-balance as other people shoot balanced, and
I shoot better from 28 feet than others shoot from 20 feet,"
says the 21-year-old Kingsbury. "Out there you just have less
room for error, and that's the way I like it."
He could dribble when he was two and play concerts for his mom
on the family's upright piano at nine. At age five, with Larry
Bird's number, 33, taped to the back of his shirt, Kingsbury
started playing full-court five-on-five games--against nine of
his toughest teddy bears, propped up between two small hoops in
the basement. He never stopped shooting.
"In the morning on my way out of the house I'd show Chris a
shot," says his dad, Jim, a hospital administrator who coached
Chris in AAU and summer league. "He'd do it over and over,
lefthanded, righthanded, hour after hour. I'd get home at night
and he'd say, 'Dad, I made 75 in a row.'"
There were endless games of one-on-one with Dad in the backyard,
where Kingsbury's now notorious court intensity came out. If his
shooting rhythm is as seamless as a Bruce Hornsby solo, his
court demeanor is more like that of Jerry Lee Lewis. Show him
the proper respect or face his wrath. Against the two
teams--Drake and Long Island--that refused to break out of zone
defenses and stick a man on him, Kingsbury nailed 18 treys, nine
against each school. During an Iowa home game last March,
Michigan's Jimmy King hacked him so hard at the top of the key
that Kingsbury nearly fell over backward. On his way down,
growling at King, he buried a 30-footer. "Getting pissed off
makes me play at my best, in that deep-focused zone," he says.
Kingsbury seems to be in that zone today as he works out inside
Carver-Hawkeye. He's passing, driving to the basket and hitting
the boards, not even attempting a trey. For Iowa to join the Big
Ten elite, Kingsbury--who averaged just 2.7 rebounds, 1.7
assists and 1.2 steals per game in 1994-95--will have to
contribute more than a handful of oohs and aahs.
Suddenly, a loose ball skips to center court. Kingsbury chases
it down and, for a second, fights the urge. Five-and-a-half
parquet squares from the arc, he chuckles, then lets one fly.
Before it crosses the free throw line, he knows it's good, and
he shuffles backward like a Pied Piper with the other Hawkeyes
in tow. No one looks back. They all head upcourt, waiting to
hear the sweetest sound in the game: a ball with 35 feet of
momentum behind it, hitting nothing but net.
COLOR PHOTO: GARY MOOK/ALLSPORT USA For the sharpshooting Kingsbury, the comfort zone is beyond the arc--and the farther beyond, the better he likes it. [Chris Kingsbury]