Beal's two levels of March Madness

Beal's two levels of March Madness
April 1, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Syracuse's 21-year-old sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams dominated the NCAA Tournament action at the Verizon Center this past week. His starry performances against Indiana and Marquette put the Final Four-bound Orange into net-cutting mode Saturday evening.

The next night, a player some 20 months younger put on a shooting clinic inside the same arena. After missing the previous five games with a sprained left ankle injury, 19-year-old Bradley Beal turned in his own version of March Madness, but on the NBA level. The rookie matched his career-high with six 3-pointers and scored 24 points in the Wizards rout over Toronto.

Just one year ago is when Beal, who entered the University of Florida as a highly touted recruit, began consistently flashing his potential including during the Gators run to the Elite Eight.

Even at such a young age, Beal is mature enough to understand how far he has come.

"It's crazy, it's just a year ago," Beal said. "The year before that I was in High School. I can remember everything. This whole year just went by fast and I'm really just enjoying it."

Similar to his rookie season with the Wizards, Beal struggled with his shooting touch while adjusting to the college game. Starting with a matchup against eventual national champion Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and then four subsequent NCAA Tournament games, Beal found his range, sinking 12 of 26 attempts (46.1 percent) from beyond the arc and shooting 58.5 percent from all angles.

"I had a lot of success in college last year down the stretch," said Beal, who sank 6 of 9 3-point attempts against the Raptors. "It's kind of the same, like reminiscing again, starting to play well at the end of March."

Well, realistically Beal, like the Wizards, began playing better once the calendar flipped to 2013. Starting in January, the perimeter threat has knocked down a staggering 49.1 percent (61 for 124) of his 3-point attempts while averaging 15.7 points. Beal opened March with a career-high 29 points against the Knicks but injuries caused him to miss 11 games this month.

His success is why Emeka Okafor said following Sunday's shooting display that "nothing surprises me" anymore when it comes to the teenager's ability.

"If he's here, then he's here for a reason," Okafor said. "Every minute he shows why. His age if anything just shows how much better he can become."

"That's what our business is. We get a lot of young kids," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "He's learned a lot and he still has a lot to learn because he's 19. He's only scratched the surface."

Beal's six 3-pointers on Sunday were four more than Florida made as a team in its South regional finals 20-point loss to Michigan. Asked if he was inspired to come back because of the Gators' third straight Elite Eight loss, Beal cracked. "Somebody had to do something from Florida," before adding, "Those guys had a great run."

Clearly Beal knows of such things.