BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Xavier coach Skip Prosser called Gary Lumpkin to his office for a discussion after XU's 74-67 loss at Toledo last week. It was a one-sided talk.
"He let me have it," Lumpkin said. "Just a tirade. He didn't know where my head was. I thought I had it mentally, but from the things he pointed out, I even thought, 'G, what are you thinking?'
"It was like sticking a knife through my heart. He was totally right. There wasn't anything I could be upset about."
Having a four-year starter at point guard is one of the grandest luxuries in college basketball. As Prosser often points out, the point guard is the player who most controls the game.
But it has been too wild a ride for the Musketeers. In Xavier's 5-4 start, Lumpkin has shot the ball poorly (35.4 percent from the field, 17.8 percent from three-point range) and committed too many turnovers and bad decisions for Prosser's taste. His confidence level has been noticeably low.
Assistant coach Jeff Battle cues up video from different games. One clip shows Lumpkin shooting, then raising his hands in the air, signaling three-pointer. Confident. Knowing
the ball is going in. In another clip, Lumpkin shoots, misses, falls down and drops his head in frustration.
"Mainly what I try to point out to him is the difference in his body language," Battle said. "He's thinking too much. It's a mental block. His first couple years here, he just played, and he played with much more confidence.
"He's got to get to the point where he just plays and not worry about what people are going to think of him if he misses a shot or makes a turnover . . . He's got to be tougher mentally."
Lumpkin is by no means the only Musketeer not playing to his capabilities. But he is the one Xavier can least afford to have struggling.
Battle does not believe Lumpkin peaked as a sophomore, when he and fellow guard Lenny Brown were named first-team all-Atlantic 10. Lumpkin does the same things on the court as when he was a sophomore, Battle said. Many of the jumpers that aren't falling now are the same he has taken for three years.
Opposing coaches don't see obvious wrinkles, either. Three assistants who scouted Xavier this fall say they see no difference in Lumpkin this season. They add, however, that while the Musketeers miss injured senior Darnell Williams, they may miss Torraye Braggs and T.J. Johnson more. Without the starting center and power forward of a year ago solidifying the inside game, opponents are better able to focus on stopping Lumpkin and Brown.
"You can kind of limit your focus," Toledo assistant Tim Saliers said. "We just tried to push up on them and make their guards hit tough shots.
"Obviously Lumpkin is struggling with his shooting, but I think it has to do more with confidence. He's getting good looks. Out on the court he's still working extremely hard and doing all the things he'd normally do. I don't think (the slump) will last too much longer."
Said Miami assistant Don Moormeier: "He could light somebody up tomorrow, or whenever he plays again."
Lumpkin gets e-mails from people he doesn't know, giving him tips, such as: Take Posey's old role and come off the bench to be the sixth man; or, have someone stand on a chair and practice shooting over them to get used to defenders running at you.
"They think they have the solution," Lumpkin said. "I just shake it off and laugh. They don't have a clue."
Here is Lumpkin's solution: Come early to practice and stay late. Shoot. Work on ball-handling. Rebuild the confidence. "Encouragement helps, too," he said.
He focuses on positive notes he gets from alumni, telling him they are behind him. Last week, he received a letter from former Xavier guard Michael Hawkins.
"He said he went through the same thing I'm going through," Lumpkin said. "He wrote in the letter: 'I've been there, believe me. Just keep your head up. Coach believes in his seniors. You're a good player ... "
Battle has told Lumpkin to start this season over, begin with a clean slate when XU plays host to Cansius on Saturday night.
"The other guys are pulling for him," Battle said. "It's like every time he shoots, they're praying that it goes in, too. They want him to get going because he's a big part of what we're trying to do. I think he's really fighting himself. I just don't think he's enjoying playing right now like he should be."
Said Lumpkin: "We're going to turn it around. I know it for a fact. I know I'm a lot better than what I'm playing. Lenny knows he's a lot better than what he's playing. Everybody as a whole, we're going to step up and we're going to start winning games. When the A-10 comes, we're going to win games, and we're going to be a good team."
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