By John Bohnenkamp
It’s never easy to change a player’s shot, Jan Jensen said.
But, one season into Monika Czinano’s career at Iowa, Jensen, who is Iowa’s associate head coach, and head coach Lisa Bluder knew something had to be different with the way Czinano shot,
“Oh, I had to completely change it,” Czinano, Iowa’s senior center, said, smiling. “Coach Bluder said it was atrocious.”
It’s good now.
Czinano led the nation in field goal percentage last season at 66.8 percent, a year after finishing second by shooting 67.9 percent.
Those numbers, Bluder said, are because of Czinano’s willingness to change her offensive game.
“She really worked hard on changing her shooting style from her freshman year to her sophomore year,” Bluder said. “She completely changed her shooting style, which is very hard to do when you’re 19, 20 years old and you’ve been doing something all of your life. So give credit to her — she puts the time in in the gym.”
“The best kid we’ve ever seen do it,” Jensen said of the change.
Czinano shot 54.9 percent as a freshman in a limited role, but, as she prepared to move into a starting role with the departure of national player of the year Megan Gustafson, the coaches knew Czinano’s shot had to change.
“It was kind of like a weird, kind of high-hitch-and-a-throw, a bit,” Jensen said.
Czinano could get away with that in high school, when she scored 1,643 points in her career at Watertown-Mayer (Minn.) High School. Against bigger, more physical players in the Big Ten, it wasn’t going to work on a regular basis.
“My shot was too slow before,” Czinano said. “It was easy to block. It took me too long to set. That was a big shift I had to make.
“I didn’t have to worry about getting my shot off quick (in high school). And I think it’s just a learning-bad-habits kind of thing. Nobody is going to correct you in high school when you’re one of the better players on your high school team. Like, nobody is going to say, ‘Hey, change your whole shot.’”
That’s never an easy process, Jensen said.
“When you work with shots, in my opinion, it’s so personal.” Jensen said. “Typically, someone very important in (a player’s) life has taught them to do something. And then they have a degree of success. And if you’re a post, you can be pretty good when you’re taller. Depending on the competition you get, you’re going to be successful.
“So when you challenge a young person with a shot, you have to tread very carefully. We’ve had players over the years who have welcomed that. And then other players who just can’t do it, and then you watch them and get on their ship. You’re like, ‘OK, we’re dealing with this, so then at least let’s at least make it as quick as we can, and as successful as we can.’ So I think changing a shot is one of the hardest things to do in college coaching, and one of the hardest things to do as a college athlete.”
“They very nicely just said maybe just change your shot,” Czinano said. “So I did that.”
Czinano saw her percentages when she worked with a shooting gun in practice.
“I remember getting on the gun and shooting, and I saw I would have made 30 percent of my shots and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I suck. This is awful,’” Czinano said.
“With Monika, we just videoed it,” Jensen said. “Then we said, ‘For you to go from here to here, and for it to be more consistent, we need it to look like this.’”
Jensen said Czinano’s release is crisp, and has more quickness.
“A beautiful touch,” Jensen said.
“I stopped focusing on the percentages I was shooting and just focused on the technique and getting better at it,” Czinano said. “I don’t know … practice makes perfect.”
Czinano, who was second in the nation in field goals last season behind teammate Caitlin Clark, had 13 games last season when she shot 70 percent or better. She made 16-of-18 shots in a win over Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, setting a tournament record for field goal percentage on the way to a career-high 38 points.
Jensen said Czinano had a good tutor in Gustafson, the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“When Monika got here, we told her, ‘Do everything Megan does,’” Jensen said. “Megan was so great because she had such a natural tendency. And with her work ethic, that’s why the great ones are great. You can mimic, and get as close as possible.”
Czinano’s work on her shot has impressed Jensen.
“It’s a game-changer,” Jensen said. “She deserves all the credit for it. We made the suggestion, we worked mechanically with it. But she put in the work. She gets all of the credit. She really worked to get better.”
Photo: Iowa’s Monika Czinano shoots in a game against Purdue last season. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)