Passing fancy: Nancy Lieberman's son also an adept passer
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Richmond forward T.J. Cline takes a pass at the left side of the foul line, spins and drives the lane. As he nears the basket, drawing a defender to him, he deftly scoops a pass to a teammate.
It's a typical unselfish play by the 6-foot-9 Cline, who is living up to his bloodlines as the son of Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman.
In what has been a breakout season for the junior, he's established himself as one of the best passing big men in the college game. Among players 6-8 and taller, only LSU 6-10 freshman Ben Simmons (5.0) averages more assists than Cline's 4.0.
Cline and Spiders point guard ShawnDre' Jones have been splitting time as the team's assists leader.
''I think T.J. is probably the best passing big guy we've had,'' said Richmond coach Chris Mooney, who is in his 11th season. ''I think we probably play through him as much as we've done any player because of how he can pass.''
The Plano, Texas native also is averaging a career-best 17.2 points while shooting 56.2 percent. Heading into the Spiders' game against George Washington on Wednesday night, Cline has led Richmond in scoring in six of the last seven games. He's averaging 21.1 points in that stretch, and connecting on 58.8 percent of his field goal attempts.
Cline gets his talents from his basketball-playing parents.
Lieberman, now an assistant with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, is among the most decorated women's players in history. She won the Wade Trophy recognizing the best women's player in college in 1979 and 1980. She led Old Dominion to national championships in 1978 and 1980.
His father, Tim Cline, played for the Washington Generals and is a sports marketing executive in Texas.
''This is the most I've ever not been around him,'' said Lieberman, who made it to Richmond for a few days during the NBA All-Star break and saw the Spiders rally past Fordham, 71-67.
Lieberman did say she sometimes steals a peak at his games on her cellphone while working with the Kings. The coach also studies film of him playing when she can, and shares observations from 3,000 miles away.
''We can talk about mechanics or confidence and it's pretty cool to be able to do that with your kid and to have him be so receptive to the conversation,'' Lieberman said. And while she averaged 18.1 points during her college career, there is one area where her son already has her beat.
''He's a better shooter, a far better shooter, than I ever was,'' Lieberman said.
VCU coach Will Wade said Cline is a ''big-time'' matchup problem because of his versatility.
''You put a smaller guy on him to take away the perimeter threes and switch and stuff out there, he bullies you in the post,'' Wade said. ''He's a great passer. They put him in the high post against zones and he makes great passes against zones, he makes great passes against the press. He's like a Swiss Army knife. He can do a little bit of everything.''
And his skills fit perfectly with what Richmond needs from him.
''We're really unselfish on this team and that's what we preach, give up a good shot for a great shot,'' Cline said. ''I think guys really buy into that.''
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