Consistent jumper is Shipman’s priority

MIRAMAR — It starts with a steal down low in the paint as he’s helping to double down on a big. Ray Shipman puts the ball on the deck and starts weaving through traffic. His dribble is like a yo-yo. The ball almost explodes off the floor back into his hands. He goes behind the back twice, the second time at midcourt and that’s when he accelerates like a thoroughbred leaving the pack at the final turn.

The burst of speed is the prelude to a spectacular finish that begins a step past the foul line. Ray Shipman soars above the rim and finishes with an authoritative jam, his signature shot. He will go coast to coast two more times in this game, taking similar routes to the rack both times, showing he has that separating burst and the ability to fly high and finish in highlight reel fashion.

At 6-5, 200 pounds, Ray Shipman is a highlight reel in the open court. He plays his high school ball for Monsignor Pace in Opa-Locka, one of the state’s best and most consistent programs. In the spring and summer, he plays for Matt Ramker’s Florida Rams program on the AAU circuit where he gets to go up against the best in the nation on a regular basis.

The high flying, above the rim finishes are what Shipman is known for. He enjoys the notoriety of being a dunk machine in the open court but he’s hoping to add to that reputation by becoming a legitimate outside threat. Right now, it’s anybody’s guess if the jump shot will be there at game time.

“My whole game needs to improve because you can never stop getting better,” said Shipman between games Saturday at the Best of the Best AAU Tournament at the Sunset Lakes Community Center. “I’m working on everything but especially my jump shot. I’m trying to get consistent. Some games I’ll go out and hit five straight threes. Some days it’s just not there.”

He knows the importance of adding the consistent shot from the outside to his already imaginative array of dunks. When he is one-dimensional he’s much easier to defend. When he is knocking down the shots from the outside, he’s a nightmare. Given the choice, he would prefer to be the nightmare.

“I want to be an all-around player that can pass, score, rebound, play defense and do anything I can to help the team win,” he said. “I think I can help my team more if I am a more consistent shooter. If they respect you as a shooter, it really opens a lot of things up for you and makes them have to play harder on defense.

He’s using this AAU season to sharpen his all-around game. At Pace, he’s the number one scoring option. On this team with players like Kenny Kadji, a 6-10 big man that gives the Rams a strong inside presence, Shipman doesn’t have to carry the scoring load and that allows him to focus in on elements of his game that he feels could use some improvement.

“I feel that my strengths are attacking the rim, transition in the open court when I blast out with a rebound and doing things in my mid-range,” he said. “What I want to do is improve my weaker areas like moving without the ball, my off-the-ball defense, my jump shot. I want to do a better job of helping out on defense, too.

“My goal is when I finish this summer, I’m a better player in every part of the game than I was when I started,” he said

In the classroom, Shipman is straight A all the way. He carries a weighted 4.7 GPA and he just took the SAT two weeks ago.

“I kind of walked in and took it without any preparation,” he said. “I really don’t have a feel for it if I got a great score or not. I think I did pretty good but I’ll probably take it again anyway and this time I’ll study for it just so I can see if I can get a really high score.”

Good grades are such a part of his plan for life that it influences his hobbies and the things he does away from basketball. He’s not exactly a party animal.

“If I’m not playing basketball, you’ll probably find me at home,” he said. “My parents aren’t strict but there’s a lot of trouble out there and the best way to avoid it is staying home. I’d rather hang out with friends at home and watch videos or something like that anyway.

“You may not believe it but homework is actually a big hobby of mine. I take some pretty tough classes and the best way to stay ahead is to do all your homework. I’ve got a research paper that’s due on Tuesday and when I leave here, I’ve got to work on that.”

Getting in school won’t be a problem nor will narrowing down his list of favorites. There are plenty of suitors but only a handful that really have his attention. He talked about the teams that have earned his attention:

FLORIDA: “I went to one game and it’s like a family. Everybody in the stands is so into it. It gets loud in their stadium and it’s a fun place to be on game-day. Coach (Billy) Donovan is really a great guy to talk to. He asks you more about other things than basketball. I like the team and the way they play. Taurean (Green) is a friend of mine from when he went to Cardinal Gibbons and he says it’s a great place to be.”

KANSAS STATE: “Coach (Frank) Martin is from down here and he knows my dad. My dad grew up playing down here. My dad knows he’s a good guy. I think they are a program that’s coming up and they’re going to be pretty well known.”

GEORGIA TECH: “It’s not so far from home. It’s a really good school. Coach (Paul) Hewitt is pretty down to earth. They’ve been following me since the ninth grade. It’s Atlanta … like Miami. Lot of energy up there.”

CLEMSON: “Coach (Oliver) Purnell is a really good coach and he’s followed me around watching me. They seem real interested in you as a person there and I like that.”

TENNESSEE: “I like their style when I saw them in the tournament. Coach (Bruce) Pearl wears those suspenders. He’s not so uptight. Did you see him with his chest painted?”

He doesn’t feel the pressure to commit to one school or another but instead will carefully choose the place he feels he fits in best of all. Fitting in means finding a program that will develop him as a basketball player and a person and has outstanding academic programs.

“College is supposed to be the best time of your life,” he said. “I want to find a place that has the basketball, good academics and a place that I’ll be happy. I want to find a place that makes me feel like it’s home.”

Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.