Gary Lumpkin's genius is in his jump shot. It is the source of his power - and the place of his pigeonhole.
The Xavier point guard is at his best behind the three-point line, lofting rainbows toward the rim. This is no small talent in a game in which distant shots are scored with a 50 percent premium, but it isn't enough. To succeed in basketball, a man must be able to branch out.
''I think sometimes I tend to become a suburban jump shooter,'' Lumpkin said. ''Everybody knows I'm going to shoot the three, so they come out and jam me. That's when I have to learn to go by guys and create for myself and create for other guys.''
Lumpkin leads the unbeaten Musketeers in both scoring and assists entering today's game at Akron, but he has yet to attain the inner-city bravado to go with his suburban shooting polish. The great point guards drive the lane with impunity, forcing the action, improvising in midair. Theirs is an eloquent form of extemporizing.
Gary Lumpkin still plays sometimes as if he were working from a script. He depends primarily on his long-range jump shot because he isn't nearly so devastating with the dribble. Yet without his growing ability to lead and to ad lib, it would be much more difficult to explain the Muskies' 7-0 start.
''Gary has a tremendous desire to please, especially those in authority,'' said Xavier coach Skip Prosser. ''Last year, he was more worried about doing what he's doing correctly. This year, he's cognizant of what the other guys on the floor are doing. I think he has a much better understanding of the total picture. That's a hard thing to learn.''
He is not yet where he wants to be. Still, Lumpkin is driving toward his destination with mounting conviction and skill. The suburban jump shooter is starting to acquire some street smarts.
''Last year, I would have been a little hesitant at pushing the ball up (the floor), to try and create things,'' he said. ''Last year I had a little tendency to dog it because I wasn't in shape or I wasn't as strong. But I've worked very hard in the weight room to get stronger and be able to take contact. The older I've gotten, the more I've penetrated.''
Born to play basketball
He has been at it a long time now. Gary Lumpkin is only 19 years old, but he has been consumed by basketball almost since birth. When he was a year old, his brothers would roll the ball to him in the halls of their home in New Castle, Del. As soon as he was strong enough to hoist it, he started shooting.
''I had many lamps broken from them playing basketball,'' Peggie Lumpkin said of her sons Friday. ''The lampshade was the basket.''
Gary Lumpkin was the youngest of four boys, all of whom would play college basketball at some level. Growing up, he would attend the games of his older brothers and regularly broke into tears when he was forbidden from taking the floor at halftime.
When he wasn't taking aim at some Delaware hoop, Gary Lumpkin played keyboards for his late father's choir at the True Church of Christ.
''The people at church still tell me, 'We can't sing without Gary,''' Peggie Lumpkin said. ''I tell them, 'You better get used to it, because he might never come back. You don't know where he might go from Xavier.'''
Don't say the 'S' word
Like so many college players, Lumpkin aspires to the National Basketball Association. His strongest selling point is his reliability from three-point range (51.2 percent so far this season). His chief drawback is his quickness, which is only ordinary.
''There are times I do things that could be done at a pro level,'' he said. ''There are other things I do where it's like I have no chance. Sometimes I make stupid passes. Sometimes I don't concentrate like I really should.''
Sometimes, Gary Lumpkin's lapses suggest the suburban jump shooter stereotype. He needs no other motivation.
''Coaches can kill you with that phrase,'' he said. ''When coaches scout you, you can pretty much say it's over if they call you a suburban jump shooter.''