It didn’t take long for Tyson Etienne’s game-winning shot from the top of the WuShock logo at mid-court to go viral on Tuesday night.
On college basketball’s opening night, the Wichita State star stole the show with his daring step-back three-pointer to lift the Shockers to a 60-57 victory over Jacksonville State.
The clip of Etienne sinking the 32-footer, sending Koch Arena into hysterics, then calmly walking back down the court and tugging his shooting sleeve off was viewed more than a half-million times on SportsCenter’s Twitter account in less than six hours.
Many were amazed by Etienne’s brashness, but others were left questioning the shot selection. With the score tied and WSU in the bonus, was a 32-footer really a wise decision? Was this an example of a bad shot, good make?
“That’s probably the worst shot you could have taken with that much time on the clock,” one user tweeted, which was liked more than 200 times.
“I mean, it’s pretty cool, but totally unnecessary,” another tweet read. “With that amount of time still left, no reason that is the shot you play for to win the game.”
“Bad decision save(d) by a lucky shot,” another user wrote.
These anonymous comments on social media come from people who have never gone through one workout with Etienne.
For the trainers who have worked with Etienne, they couldn’t help but crack a smile when they saw their pupil’s game-winning shot.
This is the inside story on why Etienne’s seemingly preposterous shot was anything but to the people who know him best.
“I think a lot of people who don’t really know Tyson don’t realize how often he works on that type of shot,” said former teammate Brycen Bush, who helped work out Etienne recently. “People don’t realize that shot is pretty much normal for him. He makes those shots a lot.”
‘That’s just what he does’
For those who have worked out Etienne, it felt like they were privy to a secret that became a viral sensation on Tuesday night.
In speaking with four different trainers who have worked with Etienne late Tuesday night, none were surprised he took or made the shot from that distance. It’s not because of blind loyalty. It’s because they have all witnessed Etienne practice that exact same shot in an empty gym hundreds of times before.
“Anyone who has ever been a part of a Tyson Etienne workout has seen those shots,” said Connor Shank, a former WSU manager who still helps Etienne work out. “Whether it was three years ago, a year ago, five months ago, he always ends his workouts the same way.”
Regardless of what he just spent the previous hour or two doing, Etienne never fails to spot up from 30 feet out, first from the left side, then from straight on, and then the right side. He always ends on a make. Every time.
“Sometimes it will take him a while, sometimes it won’t take him more than a couple tries,” Bush said. “But he does it every single time at the end of his workout. It’s crazy.”
Etienne doesn’t shoot from that deep just for fun to see if he can make them. He treats each practice shot like it’s the last shot of a tied game, just like the scenario he found himself in on Tuesday night.
“The shots people see him take in games are taken hundreds, if not thousands of times in the gym before you see it on the court during games,” Shank said. “Every aspect of his workouts are tailored to be game-like situations.”
The dribbles Etienne was taking near half-court before his shot? They may have seemed mindless, just to waste time. Not the case.
His trainers immediately recognized those dribbles as the same loop Etienne would do in practice to establish a rhythm before a shot. “Certified Tyson moves,” as Shank put it.
Pay close attention: he dribbles with his left hand through his legs, catches it with his right hand and brings the ball back across his body to his left hand. He would do this loop four times, slowly making the defender back-pedal each time to give himself the sliver of space he needed to launch.
Every move made by Etienne has purpose.
“Those pace moves at the very end, he works on those,” Bush said. “That’s all stuff he works on. It’s crazy to see tiny details like that come to life and see him make it work in a game. When he started dribbling like that, I could see it coming. It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s going to pull.’”
And if you thought Etienne was shooting these shots in practice wide open, you thought wrong. Remember, everything is game-like. In work-outs, Etienne has Shank and Bailey Burns, another former WSU manager, charge at him while he’s shooting from distance to simulate strong contests, much like the one from Jacksonville State’s Jalen Gibbs.
“Seeing how rigorous he is with those workouts, it’s cool to see how it’s become muscle memory now and just part of his game,” Shank said. “If you look at most guys who make a game-winning shot like that, they’re celebrating like they just won a million dollars. After Tyson hit that shot, he just turned around and walked away like nothing happened. Because that’s just what he does all the time in workouts.”
‘These are the moments that you work for’
Watching from his home in Englewood, New Jersey, Max Etienne recognized the same dribbles as a tell-tale sign that his son was pulling.
“I knew when I saw his approach, it was going up,” Etienne said. “I knew it was game. I knew it was game.”
Watching his son drill the game-winning shot transported the father back to when Tyson was just a boy, shooting in empty gyms as Max would count down the final five seconds of a fictional game.
All these years later, when the countdown was for real, Tyson was prepared.
“We would always do this drill where he had five seconds left and he had to make his move,” Max said. “When you train your kid, you want to see the fundamentals that they do come out in a game. He has always been cool like a cucumber when it comes to those types of shots.”
Deep shots, sure. But step-back, 32-footers? Was that really a good shot?
“I can understand why people might think that is a hard shot, but he takes that shot all the time and he makes it with consistency,” Max said.
It’s not just the hours of training Tyson logs every week, it’s how he mentally prepares for games that Max believes allows him to succeed in pressure-packed moments like the one on Tuesday night.
“He knew that was his shining moment and he needed that game,” Max said. “He’s the player of the year, so he’s got to make that moment for his team. I mean, c’mon, you can’t lose the first game out.
“This is what you work hard for. This is a kid who meditates and lives a different lifestyle than most college athletes. These are the moments that you work for and he stepped up. That’s what I’m most proud of. He stepped up.”
In their postgame FaceTime call, the father and son took a brief moment to reflect on how far Tyson has come since those early days in the gym.
But it is the Etienne way to treat success as temporary. As soon as the call ended, Tyson vowed to put the biggest shot of his career behind him.
“These are the special moments I’ve told Tyson about,” Max said. “Since he was young, I told him there are going to be good moments and there are going to be bad moments, whether it be AAU, high school, college. There’s going to be highs and lows and tonight was a high for you. Tonight was a big high for you.
“But tomorrow is a new day and he’ll be ready. It’s back to normal.”
‘It was totally deja vu’
Joey Burton has been working as an NBA skills development coach for years now and he hasn’t come across a college player like Etienne.
The two linked up in Indianapolis this summer when Etienne was going through the pre-draft process for NBA teams. It always stuck out to Burton that Etienne wouldn’t want to end a workout on a dunk or free throws, but rather 30-foot bombs. It was the same process every time: from the left side, from the center and from the right side.
So when Etienne decided to pull from 32 feet, almost exactly where he takes the practice shots from, Burton couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It was totally deja vu,” Burton said. “I immediately thought, ‘This is what he prepared for.’”
While Burton noticed the rhythm dribbles, the detail he was the most proud of Etienne for was the arch he used to perfectly splash the ball through the net without grazing the rim.
“A lot of players who shoot that deep will shoot the ball with a different motion or a different shooting mechanic,” Burton said. “There was none of that with Tyson. He shot the ball high and got the ball to the back of the rim. We worked this summer on Tyson shooting the ball up and getting the ball high and gravitating toward the rim. I always explain it like a quarterback throwing a hail mary. They don’t throw it at the receiver. They throw it high and let gravity take it to the receiver.”
Burton has worked with NBA players. He knows better than most what constitutes a good shot from a bad one.
Is a step-back, 32-footer a bad shot for a lot of players? Yes. But is it a bad shot for Etienne? Burton doesn’t believe so because of the repetition he has from that range.
“You can debate all day if it was a good shot or a bad shot, but at the end of the day, one team went home with a loss and one team went home with a win because of that shot,” Burton said. “At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”