You might think that major-college basketball players become immune to criticism over time. They play on such a public stage, after all.
I was thinking about that as I listened to Maryland sophomore Shaquille Cleare talk to reporters after scoring 10 points (on 5-for-7 shooting) after the 66-62 victory over Florida Atlantic.
Cleare had played arguably his best game of the year. But he seemed a little burdened by previous criticism. It had seemed to wear on him. Or maybe it was Cleare being his own worst critic. It was hard to tell.
“I’m pumped about [playing well], but it’s something I was supposed to be doing from earlier in the season. It’s a little disappointing for me even though I had the 10 points because I know I’m capable of getting it every game,” he said.
Cleare didn’t want to say exactly who was criticizing his earlier performances.
“I’ve been in a slump lately and people have been saying a lot of stuff,” he said. “But it’s motivating me. Some people wrote some stuff. I don’t want to get into details about that. I can play this game. [I] just have to continue to work hard.”
The 6-foot-9 Cleare carries the burden of high expectations. He was a highly touted recruit, a big “get” for coach Mark Turgeon and his staff who had seen him impress at the Amateur Athletic Union level.
Last season, he averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. This season, he is averaging 4.1 and 2.7, respetively.
Cleare is popular among his teammates. He doesn’t mind accepting constructive criticism from them, particularly fellow sophomore Charles Mitchell.
“That’s like my little brother. That’s my best friend,” Cleare said. “If I’m messing up, he always gets on me.”