By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University men's basketball coach Rob Pryor knew that Jared Carithers could make an impact on the basketball court, he just needed the right opportunity.
Carithers seems to have found that proper fit at SU, but his trip to becoming a Hornet wasn't exactly smooth.
Carithers, a standout at Bowie (Md.) High School, elected to remain close to home following his high school graduation in 2010, as he spent his freshman year of college playing basketball at Frederick Community College in Maryland.
The Bowie native then chose to transfer to Division III Lynchburg College for his sophomore season, where he planned to play basketball for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference program. But Carithers didn't even make it half a semester at Lynchburg, as a combination of homesickness and unhappiness with the direction of the basketball program forced him to leave the school.
"It just didn't feel right," Carithers said.
It wasn't until then that the sharp-shooting point guard popped up on Pryor's radar.
"We have several guys along the [Delaware-Maryland-Virginia] area that know kids, that we're kind of in contact with, and one of those guys called and said, 'Hey, you've got to look at this guy,'" Pryor recalled after the Hornets' 66-61 loss to Bridgewater on Wednesday.
"I heard he could put the ball in the hole. That was the first thing. And then we went and saw him play a couple times in some open gym scenarios and we really liked him."
Luckily for Pryor, that feeling was mutual. As soon as Pryor showed interest, Carithers' decision about where he wanted to continue his collegiate basketball career became easy, and he enrolled at Shenandoah in the fall of 2012 as a sophomore.
Carithers has since emerged as one of the Hornets' top scoring threats over the past season and a half, but even the road to that role contained a few bumps, mainly in the form of Shenandoah's Princeton-style offense.
"To be honest, when I first got here I didn't like it," Carithers said of the scheme, which places a heavy emphasis on constant off-the-ball motion and screens. "It took a little while to get adjusted to it -- it was something totally different than what I'd ran my entire life, so coming here it was just difficult to understand and grasp at first."
His inexperience with the offense relegated Carithers to a bench role in his first nine games with Shenandoah last season, but as he became more comfortable in the new system, there was no denying Carithers' ability to execute the scheme effectively.
Pryor placed Carithers into the starting lineup in the Hornets' 10th game last season, and one game later Carithers scored a career-high 35 points in an 81-69 loss to Dickinson College.
"Once Jared got it -- and he picked it up fairly quickly -- it was a no-brainer to insert him into the starting lineup," Pryor said. "And he hasn't looked back since."
Carithers went on to lead SU in scoring last year, as he tallied 13 points per game and led the Hornets with 51 total assists.
Knowing that he would once again be looked upon to help shoulder much of the scoring load as a junior this season, Carithers hit the weight room hard and worked tirelessly in the gym at perfecting his already-lethal jump shot.
Carithers has also learned the Hornets' offense in and out, almost to the point where he understands the offense as well as some members of Shenandoah's coaching staff, according to Pryor. And it has showed on the court this season.
The junior point guard is averaging 16.6 points per game through Shenandoah's first 16 games, a mark that's good for fourth in the ODAC and that ranks second on the team behind senior guard Avery Green's conference-leading 23.6 points per game average.
Carithers has also increased his 3-point shooting percentage from 33.1 percent last year to its current 38.9-percent (44 for 113) mark.
"He's already a smart guy, so this year he feels really comfortable and he understands where his shots are coming from," Pryor said. "That's a big part of the offense. I think that's been the biggest difference, him being in the system, understanding what's supposed to happen, when it's supposed to happen. And it's a big bonus not just for him, but for the rest of the guys."
Carithers has also been helped by the return of a fully healthy Green, who missed most of last season with recurring tendonitis in his left knee. Green's ability to slice through traffic and convert tough shots in the paint contrasts nicely with Carithers' ability to consistently knock down shots on the perimeter.
"They have so much mutual respect for what the other does, and because of that there's a great trust there," Pryor said. "They just feed off each other, and we have to get that back. It's been a few games now since they've both been on the same page, and we need that. We need those guys to carry us."
The Hornets (10-6, 2-5 ODAC) have struggled of late, as Shenandoah has lost three straight games after winning its previous seven. Carithers hasn't been his typical self during the losing streak, as he has scored just 23 combined points in that span. But he isn't ready to panic just yet.
"We've got to get back to the basics and execute better, and come through adversity," Carithers said. "We've got to focus on the next one and keep playing hard. Teams are going to adjust to what we're doing, but if we keep playing the right way we're going to overcome it."
Shenandoah has already recorded more wins this season than its previous two seasons combined (9). A big part of that has been the rapid emergence of Carithers, whom Pryor says has grown to realize his role as a leader for the Hornets this season.
"Jared needed the chance," Pryor said. "He'd had a rough go of it a little bit and he's made good on his opportunity here."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD