CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shooter! Shooter! Shooter! Left corner!
Ty Outlaw heard an opponent bark those words a few years ago in junior college. At first, he didn’t know what to think of them. Me? They’re calling me a shooter?
He had never heard anything like that before, had never been labeled a marksman on the basketball court. He’d been an athlete. He’d been a dunker and a driver and a rebounder. Never a shooter.
“I just loved the sound of it,” Outlaw said. “I realized, ‘Hey, I might have a real talent at this.’ I wanted to make it my identity after that.”
On Wednesday, we saw that identity in full bloom. Outlaw knocked Miami on its keister by making his first four 3-point attempts, pointing Virginia Tech toward an easy 71-56 victory in the second round of the ACC Tournament.
Oh, Outlaw’s a shooter, all right. The second-best 3-point shooter in the ACC, statistically.
“If he has space and he has 10 toes to the rim,” Tech coach Buzz Williams said, “I think he’s an elite-level shooter.”
And a confident one. On his third 3-pointer, which gave the Hokies an 11-0 lead and forced a Miami timeout, Outlaw started jogging back down the court as soon as he let it go.
“I knew it was good,” Outlaw said. “I can’t really explain that moment. You work on it so much every day. I just knew. Especially when the first one goes in the way that it does, and the second goes in the way that it does.
“The third one felt just like the first and second one. It’s a good feeling.”
It’s the kind of outburst few would have expected from Outlaw not too long ago.
Growing up in the small town of Roxboro, North Carolina, he forged a reputation as a rim attacker. His explosiveness gave him all the edge he needed; perimeter shooting was for the other guys.
That began to change when he transferred to Lee College, a Texas junior college, after his freshman year at UNC Greensboro. He credits the coach there, Marcus King, for pushing him and expanding his game.
“I knew that junior college could be either good or bad,” Outlaw said. “Some people can go to junior college and get lost; some people can go there and use it for what they need it for. I just would work out multiple times a day on everything, and when our first games came, I used to test the waters. ‘Let’s see if I can make a shot today.’
“I was always streaky [before]. I could shoot a little bit, but I was streaky. But my first couple games of junior college, man, I would go 4 for 4 or 5 for 5 from 3. I fell in love with it. Love at first sight.”
Outlaw has shot 47.5 percent on 3-pointers in his Hokies career, but his time at Tech has been racked by well-documented adversity. A heart condition robbed him of the 2015-16 season. In 2017-18, he missed another full campaign after tearing a knee ligament. The NCAA granted him a second medical hardship waiver that allowed him to play a sixth year in college.
The ACC and its media organization recognized his perseverance Wednesday, honoring Outlaw with the Bob Bradley Spirit and Courage Award shortly before tipoff.
“It makes you want to go out and just play even harder, because the roles easily could have been reversed and I could not have been playing today,” he said. “That’s really what that award meant to me, just reminding me to don’t take any of this for granted.”
His catch-and-shoot rhythm was so good Wednesday that Miami coach Jim Larranaga wondered aloud if Outlaw even took one dribble during the game. Outlaw did, in fact, take a few, scoring on a fast-break dunk for the only portion of his 14 points that did not come from distance.
He’s perfectly happy not dunking anymore. The few times Outlaw throws one down in practice, Williams looks on in mock surprise. “That looked athletic!” the coach will joke. “I didn’t know you could still dunk!”
Outlaw can, but he’d much rather keep hearing those words he heard that fateful day in junior college, the ones that label him accurately as the weapon he has become.