Aboona shoots way into record books
Through 39:50 of his team’s contest at conference rival Emory University, Washington University junior Alan Aboona already had a game for the record books. His nine three-pointers thus far tied a University Athletic Association record, and his 32 points were a career high.
Aboona did one better. With nine seconds on the clock and Wash. U. down by one, he sunk his 10th three-pointer, giving Wash. U. a victory and Aboona sole possession of the conference record for three-pointers made in a single game.
Aboona explained that the final play was drawn up for junior Chris Klimek on a cut to the basket, but Emory thwarted the design, leaving Aboona with the ball near the top of the key.
“Once we set [a] ball screen,” he said, “they switched…so their center was guarding me. Once I realized that, I dribbled the ball back out and took their center on one-on-one and created some separation and took a pretty good shot for three.”
Before that final basket, Aboona had hit his first nine three-point attempts of the game, including a perfect seven for seven in the first half. He finished 10-11 from behind the arc en route to 35 points, the highest tally by any Wash. U. male since Troy Ruths’ 35 in 2007.
“During warm-ups, I was shooting pretty well,” Aboona said. “Since Emory plays such a high-pace style…it was going to be a high-scoring game, so once I realized I was shooting well, I thought there was some potential for a breakout game for me. Then once I made my first shot, I felt in the zone the rest of the game.”
“He was in a zone that night,” head coach Mark Edwards agreed. “He didn’t take bad shots. He wasn’t just jacking it up there; he was getting shots out of the offense. He was getting himself square, and he was shooting with a lot of confidence.”
That confidence is a new addition to Aboona’s repertoire this season, along with a newfound shooting stroke—his three-point percentage has increased from the low 30s of his first two collegiate seasons to 41.2 percent this year, and his free-throw percentage has risen to a sterling 92.1 percent (second-best in all of Division III)—and grasp of the offense.
He credits his elevated level of play to “getting more of an understanding for our offense and for what our team needs and basically our team strengths. With the departure of [leading scorer Dylan Richter] last year, there was a big void in scoring and three-point shooting…I worked on, I’d say, all summer trying to develop my three-point shot, and it’s paid dividends.”
While acknowledging the obvious role that practice has played in this improvement, Edwards attributes his point guard’s rise to Aboona’s mentality.
“He came to Washington University with the right approach and the right attitude and has really submitted himself to our system and worked hard,” Edwards said. “Now it’s really paying off for him and the team.”
Along with doubling his points-per-game average from 6.4 last year to 13.1 this season, Aboona has also upped his assist average from 3.6 to 5.5. He “is playing with so much confidence,” Edwards said. “It allows him to focus in on what he’s looking for individually as far as shots, who to look for on offense as far as the open man—he gets assists out of that.”
Next up for Aboona, according to Edwards, is limiting turnovers. The team has struggled with its ball handling in its 1-2 start to conference play.
“We’re turning the ball over way too often,” Edwards lamented, adding that Aboona, with 20 turnovers in the past four games, “is not the one turning it over all the time, but I’m saying he’s the one that can dictate what we’re looking for.”
While Wash. U. didn’t enter the road clash against Emory looking for a record-setting performance on offense, Aboona’s scorching outside shot was quite a find nonetheless. The 10 threes rank him second in all of Division III this season, trailing only Jack Taylor (27 made threes) of Grinnell College. Taylor’s shooting performance was most notable for its accompanying 138 points, a record for all levels of college.
While Aboona’s game didn’t quite garner ESPN recognition or national headlines, he was named UAA player of the week for the first time in his career, and his teammates and coaches have joked about bigger things in store for the star of the moment.
“The rumor is swirling around that he’s transferring to Grinnell,” Edwards mentioned. “We were teasing him about that.”
But when asked if scoring 138 points in a single game is in his future, Aboona responded with a laugh: “I don’t think so. I’d like to say it was, but I don’t see that ever happening.”