Here is today’s Cal basketball trivia question:
Which player on the current Golden Bears’ roster leads the team in 3-point shooting accuracy?
If you guessed senior Grant Anticevich, you’d be wrong. He’s made more 3’s than anyone on the squad, but his 27-for-77 numbers work out to 35.1 percent.
Guard Jordan Shepherd, who has been playing with a metal plate taped to the injured thumb on his shooting hand, is converting just 31.8 percent on 21 of 66.
Sophomore Jalen Celestine has a higher mark than either of them at 36.6 percent, based on making 15 of 41.
Guard Makale Foreman, who made more than 200 career 3-pointers before arriving at Cal as a transfer last season, has battled a nagging foot injury and is making just 24.4 percent on 11 for 45.
The correct answer is Sam Alajiki.
The freshman small forward from Ireland is making 60 percent from beyond the arc, albeit with a small sample size of 12 for 20. He’s been better still over the past 10 games, making an impressive 75 percent (9 for 12) of his 3’s.
Alajiki, a 6-foot-7, 225-pounder, says his dorm room is a short walk from Haas Pavilion and he has access 24 hours. That proximity may be paying off.
“I like to keep my sleep schedule, but if I have free time I always like to shoot,” he says in the video above. “To get better, that’s what you do.”
Alajiki and the Bears (9-10, 2-6 Pac-12) will try to snap a five-game losing streak Thursday night at No. 7 UCLA (14-2, 6-1), a team that beat Cal 60-52 back on Jan. 8. The Bruins moved into a tie for the top spot in the conference on Tuesday night with an impressive 75-59 win over No. 3 Arizona.
Alajiki, who missed both L.A. games in Berkeley with an unspecified injury, has gotten the most playing time of any of Cal’s three freshmen. He’s averaging 11.1 minutes, producing 3.2 points and 2.0 rebounds. His overall field-goal accuracy is 51 percent.
“I’m extremely pleased with the development I’m making,” Alajiki said. “Coming here has been really instrumental to my progress and I’ve become way better as a player.”
Raised in Scotland, Alajiki lived in England for a time before moving to the U.S. to play his final two seasons of high school ball, where he blossomed into a three-star prospect.
Cal was straightforward with him in the recruiting process, Alajiki said.
“They told me if I was good I was going to have a role, I would definitely play if I could shoot and play defense,” he said. “I came in and I shot and played defense, so it’s been great.”
To increase his playing time, Alajiki needs to become more consistent, especially on defense, “so (coach Mark Fox) knows what he’s getting from me every time out there, so there’s no doubts.”
Alajiki, who possesses strength and explosiveness, said areas he’s focused on to take those steps forward also include passing, footwork and how to position himself to get his shot.
Off the court, the transition has been smooth, Alajiki said. “Berkeley has been great. They took me in like a family member. I haven’t had to worry about anything since I got here.”
Alajiki was introduced to the game at 7 or 8 by the the father of a school friend who had coached basketball in the United States, as he explains in the video above. A year or so later he tried out for the school team.
He was cut.
“So I just quit basketball,” said.
His time away from the game didn’t last long. After moving to England with his mother, Alajiki said he got another chance.
“The school basketball coach saw me and picked me up,” he said, “and I kept playing basketball because I was good from there.”
Cover photo of Sam Alajiki by Rob Edwards, KLC fotos
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo