How Wofford junior Fletcher Magee became one of the best three-point shooters in NCAA history
One of the best three-point shooters in college basketball history used to launch his shots with a two-handed shot-put heave. It was one of the goofiest shots Beau Bufton had ever seen.
Fletcher Magee was a wiry 6-foot-3 the June after his eighth grade year, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. Bufton’s father, Bill, had moved to Orlando in May to coach The First Academy’s boys basketball team; Magee was going to be a freshman on that team, and the elder Bufton had Beau eye up the incoming players. Beau had been briefed on Magee’s potential, but first he had to fix whatever was wrong with that shot.
Because Magee, wonky shot and all, wanted to be great.
“Fletcher said, ‘I want to be the best shooter ever,’” Bufton recalls, from that summer. “And he’s in eighth grade, going into ninth grade, so I’m kind of laughing because I’ve had plenty of kids tell me that but not want to put in the work. I was like ‘Fletch, man, I can tell you what you need to do, but it’s really on you in the end.’
“And he goes, ‘No, I’m serious.’”
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So Bufton decided to give this freshman a chance. He told Magee to be at the gym at 5 in the morning. Magee showed up at 4:45 a.m. the first day. Later that week he asked Bufton if they could start at 4 a.m. instead. Any time Magee wasn’t playing AAU ball — he’d later play on an AAU team with current Philadephia Sixers rookie Ben Simmons — he was in the gym, early mornings and late nights, with Bufton, shooting in the ballpark of 1,000 shots each time out.
“I just said the key was repetition,” Bufton says. “‘Every time I tell you to tweak something, you have to do it about 1,000 times, maybe 5,000 times, before it becomes a habit.’ And he really took that part of it to heart.”
Bufton found clips of great shooters for Magee to watch, and the two zeroed in on J.J. Redick, who at the time played for the Orlando Magic not five miles from The First Academy’s gym. Magee also grew up on a steady diet of Lee Humphrey, the former Florida Gator who shot 44.4 percent from deep in his four-year college career. (Magee also absolutely loved watching Allen Iverson, but Bufton didn’t tell him to study The Answer’s shot.)
“We worked on everything,” Bufton said. “We got his elbow lined up, the ball set right — and he never wanted to follow through, either. He’d just chuck it up there and that was it. We fixed that, too.”
That summer, and into his freshman school year, Magee’s two-handed shot-put heave turned from unorthodox catapult into a smooth-as-silk stroke.
Now in his third year at Wofford, Magee’s shot has become a thing of legend.
A quick three-bullet rundown:
- He’s on pace for 145 three-pointers this season, which be sixth-most all-time, and sit just 17 behind Steph Curry’s record from 2007-08
- He’s shooting 50.3% from deep this year, which would be the twelfth-most accurate season from deep in NCAA history
- His career three-point percentage, 46.0%, currently places him eighth all-time, ahead of Kyle Korver (12th), Ray Allen (16th), Stephen Curry (133rd), and J.J. Redick himself (175th).
Magee, unsurprisingly, says he doesn’t think about his place in history too often.
What does Bufton think of Magee’s numbers?
“After living and practicing with him those two years, I spent more time with him than doing anything else, so I knew at some point it’d pay off,” he says, chuckling. “I don’t think I realized — I mean, where he ranks in all these stats, it’s mind-boggling. But at the same time, when I think about it? We probably knew it was coming.”
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Magee has fluttered on the periphery of college basketball’s mainstream for three years now, but he entered its spotlight, ever so briefly, earlier this season with an individual play-as-coronation moment:
The shot, on surface level, probably sends thousands of head coaches into tizzies.
Magee takes the shot from five feet behind the arc, off the dribble, with a hand in his face, and without squaring up to the basket before leaving his feet. Textbook, it ain’t.
Yet it’s such a Magee shot that he says he’d practiced this very look numerous times before. He says he might spend equal time practicing good fundamental shots and unnatural, off-balance shots.
“I know that, if you jump and you square your shoulders once you’re up in the air, you can shield the defense off with your body at first,” Magee says. “At that point, the defense can’t block your shot. I figured that out my freshman year here, and I’ve just tried to work on those shots, work on off-balance shots, work on shots going left, different kinds of arcs and balances. If you practice those shots, when there’s a good defender who can alter your shot in the game, it doesn’t phase you. You’ve already worked on those shots.”
His game is uniquely his, which is why on the buzzer-beater — Magee says the Terriers actually wanted to get him a look in the corner, but Georgia Tech cut that off — he looked at the way the defense was playing him, decided he wanted to get back to his right hand, and knew exactly how to get there.
That compulsive desire to be prepared for any moment is just part of the work ethic that began back in the summer before high school, and has taken off since he arrived at Wofford.
When his teammate, sophomore Trevor Stumpe, arrived on campus in 2015, he and a few other underclassmen, Magee, were all living together. Stumpe started to notice Magee was different. When the guys would get back from class in the afternoon to take naps, off Magee went to the gym to get shots up. When they’d be doing homework together at night, Stumpe would look around the room and realize Magee was working out again.
“I started to think there’s something different, maybe something off, about this kid,” Stumpe says with a laugh.
His head coach Mike Young has watched Magee’s ceaselessness with awe.
“We’ve had lots of great teams, lots of great people,” Young said, “but this guy is a different animal.”
To wit: On a mid-December road swing through North Carolina, Wofford couldn’t get into an opposing gym to shoot around before their afternoon matchup.
“He was mad as a hornet,” Young said.
Luckily, Magee brings his own basketball with him on road trips, so instead of hanging out until game time, he walked down the street a couple blocks, got into a YMCA, and shot around for an hour.
Also to wit: on New Year’s Day, the entire Wofford team went out for dinner and finished up around 9 p.m.; the plan was to head back to dorms and watch the Alabama-Clemson CFP semifinal game. Young returned to the team’s basketball facility to watch some game film ahead of their game against Virginia Military Institute. At one point, Young noticed someone was shooting around in the gym. It was, of course, Magee.
This is Young’s 16th season as Wofford’s head coach. Before he was named the man in charge, he spent 13 more years as a Terriers assistant coach. In total he has nearly three decades of experience with this program.
Young is adamant he’s never seen a player work the way Magee works.
“I’ve had a lot of worker bees,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of guys who were all about being great players, helping us win championships. But this guy takes it to another level.”
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Most of Magee’s life is basketball. When he’s not playing or practicing, he’s watching other college players or pros, or he’s talking with Stumpe and his teammates about basketball. At night he uses a white noise machine to fall asleep, probably to drown out the sound of the basketball he’s still dribbling in his mind.
Magee doesn’t often pause and give himself time to dwell on his place in history, despite the fact that he is more than on pace to unseat Daddy Neal as the most prolific scorer in Wofford men’s basketball history.
But when he’s pressed to think about his time at Wofford with a wide-angle lens, if Magee must talk about himself and his legacy, he likes to focus on his fortune. He thinks he’s been pretty lucky.
Before his freshman year, the Terriers’ Player of the Year shooting guard, Karl Cochran, graduated and cleared room for Magee in the offense. He found a head coach dead-set on acquiring the best shooters in the country and fell head-first into a system outfitted with a number of plays designed to run its shooters around screens for great looks.
Really, things couldn’t have worked out better.
“There are so many good college basketball players out there,” Magee says. “Not everyone gets the fair chance or a fair opportunity to show their whole skill set. Here, I’m blessed to be able to do that, and I don’t want to take it for granted.”
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He wouldn’t score that many points in a game again for over a month, when he dropped 27 on Austin Peay, including seven triples. Wofford was 3-7 at that point, and Magee had shot under 26 percent in a cold five-game span, one of the least-accurate stretches of his career.
But it didn’t matter. Young knew he’d found his shooter.
“I’m not sure I couldn’t trace everything back to that Missouri game,” Young says. “A lot of great players at the college level take a long time to get acclimated to the speed and physicality. This guy rolls out there and does that? That was probably the first indication. We knew we were gonna have fun with this guy.”