With friend/trainer Clint Parks by his side, Jeremy Lieberman blossoms at Wyoming
Jeremy Lieberman, right, works out on the beach in California with friend and trainer Clint Parks.
Clint Parks knew he needed to meet Jeremy Lieberman.
Living in Calabasas, California, in 2009, Parks had heard plenty about a skinny, seventh-grade guard making a name for himself in the area.
“I kept hearing about this white kid who could play,” said Parks, 29. “He had really long hair. He played like he was from the inner-city and has some (expletive) to his game.
Parks is known well around the Mountain West Conference for being a basketball coach and trainer who co-founded Team Eleate, the club team and development organization that has worked with current NBA players Kawhi Leonard and Tony Snell.
When he met Lieberman, the two hit it off.
The kid with long, blond hair oozed the same work ethic that would soon bring Leonard (San Diego State) and Snell (New Mexico) success in the Mountain West.
No question, Lieberman’s game is different. His physical limitations are greater.
But his drive is on par with those two former first-round NBA Draft picks.
“He’s always had that drive since he was young, since he was in seventh grade,” Parks said. “Whether it was getting up and running on the beach, getting to the gym, shooting, ball-handling two, three times a day, he always had that drive. It’s a process.”
As Wyoming’s season winds down, Lieberman, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard for the Cowboys, is blossoming.
After playing limited minutes to start the season, he’s averaged 28.2 minutes per game over UW’s past five games while scoring 8.0 points — compared to averages of 18.9 minutes and 3.9 points on the year — and recording a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I mean, I didn’t play that much as a freshman, so I didn’t get too much time on the floor,” Lieberman said. “Early in the year, I was still sort of learning a little. As of now, I definitely feel more comfortable out there. The coaching staff obviously feels more comfortable with me. I guess you could say the game’s slowing down a little bit.”
Jeremy Lieberman, left, completes a workout with friend and trainer Clint Parks.
“I was kind of past school,” Parks said.
But after working with Lieberman for a short time, the two set a goal.
“We always talked about this, going to school together,” Parks said. “I’d go back to school if the opportunity presented itself. It did, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Over the years, Parks continued to work with Lieberman.
Eventually Lieberman shed his long hair, but his game continued to grow.
By the time he signed with Wyoming in 2013, Lieberman had drawn recruiting interest from West Coast Conference powers Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. Recruiting outlet Scout ranked him as a three-star recruit. ESPN dubbed him the No. 32 recruit in the state of California.
“Seventh grade, when I met Clint Parks, he sort of instilled (a strong work ethic) in me: show up early, stay late, no-days-off type of attitude,” Lieberman said.
When Lieberman made the trek to Laramie, Parks followed.
The two even live together in the Lieberman family’s home in Laramie.
“We have our own little dorm,” Lieberman said with a laugh.
The relationship has been symbiotic.
“That’s why I always say just as much as I’ve been able to help him, he’s been able to help me,” Parks said. “This kind of brought me back to school to finish school. It’s been good for me as well — for both of us. That’s the side that people don’t understand. Without him, I don’t know if I’d be in school right now. I’m on the verge of graduating, so it’s pretty special.”
Parks expects to finish his degree in communications this summer.
What will follow — coaching or otherwise — remains a mystery, even to him.
Except for one thing: He’ll continue working with Lieberman.
It’s becoming hard to argue the results.
The 2014-15 season was a blast for UW fans, players and coaches alike.
That’s not to say mostly watching from the sideline left Lieberman — who averaged 1.4 points and 9.0 minutes per game while appearing in 25 of 35 games — content.
“Any freshman who comes in — even though he played on a great team last year — anybody who comes in and says sitting the bench is easy,” Parks said, “if you ever say that as a player, then you’re cheating yourself, no matter how good the team is. As a competitor, you always want to play. For him to use last year as a learning experience, as motivation coming into this year to work hard, he did that.”
Even Snell, who left New Mexico after three seasons, only logged 17.5 minutes per game as a freshman.
Former Wyoming star Larry Nance Jr. played only 17.8 in his first year.
Lieberman used his lack of experience as motivation — to see the court more, but to contribute to his team more.
“He is, what we call in our profession, a basketball dinosaur,” UW coach Larry Shyatt said. “I mean he’s out there all the time, just working on his game. And so conditioning, love of game, love of learning the game, that’s what I fell in love with as a junior when we were recruiting him. You can’t teach that. So many guys want shortcuts, and he was one who did not.”
Lieberman wound up starting four of Wyoming’s first seven games this season, logging 14.9 minutes per contest. A rough patch followed, during which he averaged 10.7 minutes and made a single start.
Just a month ago, he committed eight turnovers with just two assists at home against Boise State.
“Even this season, he’s going through the ups and downs,” Parks said. “Going through that game versus Boise was probably one of the hardest games ever for me to watch. I told him it’s all a learning experience. You’re going to have ups, you’re going to have downs. You’ve got to be never too high, never too low.”
Since then, he’s started 13 straight games. More importantly, his minutes are up.
Lieberman’s played 30 or more in three of the Pokes’ past five games.
The consensus: He’s earned it.
“I think (his work ethic) is the one big thing that sets him apart,” UW junior Jason McManamen said. “Obviously, he’s not the most athletic guy out there, but he’s up there as, if not the hardest worker on the team, right up there with (senior guard Josh Adams). I think that’s why he’s kept getting better and his confidence has continued to grow: because he’s been putting in the work.”
Said Adams: “Whenever I’m in (the gym), you can almost guarantee he’s going to be in here as well, so I’m glad he’s playing with that confidence. I think that goes a long way because he’s a hell of a player and he’s going to continue to improve. He’s never satisfied.”
In the midst of the best five-game stretch of his career, Lieberman is reminding his coach of another relentless worker.
“What’s most delightful is I see a little (former UW guard Riley) Grabau, and everybody knows how I felt about him,” Shyatt said. “It wasn’t Day 1. I mean, the guy never played for a year and a half. I see a guy that’s understanding more of what he needs to do for the team, and then individually a guy that needs to focus on what he can do best and stay away from his weaknesses. And that’s a level of maturity. That’s hard for anybody at any position.”
Perhaps more than ever, Lieberman accomplished that feat Saturday in the Cowboys’ blowout road win over rival Colorado State.
He finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting to go with six rebounds and two assists without a turnover.
“I’ve always told him this: ‘You’re never going to be the fastest or the most athletic player, and that’s fine as long as you’re smarter than everybody else and you understand the importance of playing with pace, playing under control,’” Parks said.
Overall, Lieberman simply appears comfortable running the point guard position.
Some credit can go to Parks, whose advice for Lieberman hasn’t changed since their initial meeting seven years ago:
“You can control getting there before practice, getting some work in, staying after practice. For him to carry that on — it’s been passed down from Kawhi — and for the coaches to recognize that, yeah, it makes me proud, makes me happy, but it’s an expectation, too, though. You want to be better, want to be able to contribute and help your team win, that’s what you need to do.“