Last year, as a freshman, Malick Kone admitted he wasn't fully sure of himself. It was the Guinea native's first experience with big time college basketball, under the tutelage of a demanding head coach, and to top it off, the raw swingman battled through a nagging knee injury which cost him a healthy chunk of last season.
However, in the past two weeks at the Jersey Mike's Jersey Shore Basketball League (JSBL), Kone has displayed a more refined game and a heightened sense of confidence in his abilities. He's produced 32 and 29-point outbursts in losing efforts for an undermanned NJ Tarheels squad, showing a deft outside touch and stronger ballhandling.
Kone says playing on an inexperienced team like the Tar Heels--he, Austin Johnson and Monmouth's Marcus Ware are the only Division I players on the roster--has actually helped his game because of the added responsibilities he's had to take on.
"It helps my game a lot to get my confidence back," Kone said. "Last year, last summer, my confidence was okay, but now I'm 100 percent confident. I know I can help the team a lot. I can make shots, dribble, rebound, block shots and play defense. I always tell my teammates, defense is very important. This year, I've improved a lot."
Coming out of the Blue Ridge School in Virginia in 2011, Kone was a project, an athletic talent with a need to develop his skills, particularly ballhandling. He says his dribbling has improved because of the Scarlet Knights' off-season training.
"We have a yellow heavy ball and we always use it to work on our handle," Kone said. "It makes your arms stronger. The ball is five pounds and much heavier compared to the regular ball. We work out for like an hour with it, going around screens, around chairs, dribbling hard. That's what my confidence got back in my ball handling."
As a freshman, Kone played in only 16 of 32 games (eight BIG EAST) because of his knee troubles, which he says didn't got away until right after the season, when he began a strengthening and rehabilitation regimen.
Now that he's at 100 percent, Kone is hoping to keep his upswing going and help the team in some key areas.
"I'm looking to improve on everything: dribbling, shooting, passing, understanding the game," Kone said. "Now, I have to work on my pick-and-roll, using my body to pass the ball inside.
"The first thing I can help the team with is shooting the ball coming off screens, flares, pop outs and curls. The second things are rebounding and playing defense."