If the role of confidence in basketball isn’t any greater than it is in any other major sport, it’s almost certainly easier to see.

Which brings us to Tyrese Shines.

With six minutes to play and Minnesota Crookston men’s basketball beating Minnesota State Moorhead 77-55, Shines took a few hang dribbles at the top of the key, looking for an opening to attack. That sliver of daylight came just behind the 3-point line, and he didn’t hesitate to fire.

The shot was good before he decided to take it. Shines started walking away with the ball still in mid-flight, his left arm straight out at a 75-degree angle, his hand almost perpendicular in a perfectly-still, hand-in-the-cookie-jar follow through: the universally-recognized symbol for “I’m hot and I know it.”

Never at the college level has Shines been as hot as he was in UMC’s 94-61 win Saturday. It was an unquestioned breakout game for the freshman guard from La Grange, Ill., who in his 25 minutes poured in 21 points, making seven of his 10 shots and two from 3-point range, including the one previously described.

“I think I was just more confident tonight than other nights,” Shines said. “After you see one go in, you feel like you can make everything.”

The 21 points were a career high doubling Shines’ previous one (10), which he had set just 22 hours earlier against Northern State, and while Shines was at it he also grabbed eight rebounds. This, too, was a career-high, breaking the old record which he set the night before.

“He can get to the rim but he can also make those outside shots,” said Golden Eagles head coach Dan Weisse. “Defensively he did a tremendous job. We preach consistency with him — darn he was good today.”

Weisse said that Shines “arrived” Saturday. In all reality, Weisse has been waiting for him to do so all season. Shines came in with a college-ready body at 6’3 and 190 pounds and better leaping ability than any of UMC’s other guards. But with a 40-minute-a-night superstar in Harrison Cleary and two experienced backcourt players in Brian Sitzmann and Ben Juhl, Shines entered the season fourth in the pecking order.

Weisse knew, though, that Shines’ tantalizing athleticism gave him a bullet in the chamber that he could shoot right away. In fact, in Shines’ first game, against Concordia-St. Paul on Nov. 15, he played just five minutes, but ended the game on the court, defending the Golden Bears’ last shot with UMC up two and pulling down the final rebound.

“I think that says something about a freshman’s abilities, because we don’t typically put just anybody in that situation,” Weisse said on Nov. 18. “ ... He’s a tough kid.”

That same day, Weisse called the Golden Eagles’ rotation “eight with a dotted line” — that dotted line representing Shines. When Juhl decided to transfer in late November, no dotted line was necessary.

“Coach said it was my time to step up,” Shines said Saturday.

For Shines, “stepping up” has included expanding his game from being a guy who can hit a three once in a while to become a legitimate guy-you-don't-want-to-leave-open. He’s now up to 35.3 percent from deep on the season and put his shooting touch from all areas on display Saturday, hitting multiple contested pull-ups and rocking a defender to sleep with a killer crossover stepback to nail a deep two from the corner.

Stepping up includes learning what Shines can and can’t get away with in the college game, eliminating the typical freshman-esque mental errors as best as he can. Stepping up includes doing what he’s always been able to do — defend and rebound — a skill Shines showed off this weekend as well by grabbing several boards on which he appeared to have jetpacks in his shoes.

“I don’t know the last time we outrebounded a team,” Weisse said Saturday, having Shines’ eight boards to thank. “To be able to have a ‘1’, ‘2’ guard that can rebound like that and put his nose in places, that was big for us.”

Shines’ role will continue to be an interesting one. He’s still a project, which automatically comes with visions of the future. But seeing as there’s plenty of this season left, and the future is a post-Cleary one, Weisse has been obviously reluctant to think about it at all.

Cleary averages 28.4 points per game and has played all but 60 minutes this season. Expecting Shines to be the next Harrison Cleary is crushingly unfair and a setup for massive disappointment. Expecting Shines to grow as the understudy to the best player in the NSIC is realistic and already happening.

The future can wait. For now, Minnesota Crookston will reap the benefits of what Shines is already.

“That's my guy,” Cleary said. “Back in November, I said I see something in him that he can be really special. I think he showed a lot of people that tonight. He hits tough shots, he's smart, he's getting better in all aspects. He wants to learn and I love that. ... He's going to be really good."

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