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Vandy is dandy for Beaver Falls grad Jeter

| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Vanderbilt forward Sheldon Jeter (21) yells after dunking ahead of Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel (3) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky won 60-58. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

During his basketball career at Beaver Falls High School, Sheldon Jeter carried himself in a manner befitting one of the best players in the state. He was confident and in control, backing up the swagger with WPIAL gold and PIAA silver.

But even a player as talented and self-assured as Jeter isn't immune to bouts of insecurity.

When he arrived at Vanderbilt University over the summer, Jeter suddenly was just another player. He went from unquestioned superstar to unproven commodity.

By his own admission, he became apprehensive. He practiced with the constant fear that even a slight mistake would mean long stretches sitting next to coach Kevin Stallings. In one particular practice, he didn't take a single shot.

“Coach was wondering what was wrong,” said Jeter, the Tribune-Review's high school boys player of the year for 2011-12. “I felt like he was yelling at me because I didn't shoot. I thought, ‘Maybe I'm allowed to shoot. Maybe I'm actually allowed to score a little bit.' ”

The scoring didn't happen quickly, but once the calendar turned to January, Jeter's play — and that familiar confidence — elevated.

In his past five games, he's scored more points than he did in his first 11. He's averaging 9.4 ppg in January, including 8.3 in four SEC games. In this month's lone nonconference game, against William & Mary on Jan. 2, he led the team with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

He was again the Commodores' leading scorer against Arkansas 10 days later, then had 13 points in his first collegiate start against Ole Miss on Wednesday. He was back in the starting lineup Saturday and scored eight points — to go with six rebounds — in a win over South Carolina.

“Sheldon has turned the corner … and is playing with more intensity,” Stallings said. “He has a natural ability to score the ball that's helping him, and he's a really good finisher around the basket.

“As his defensive play continues to catch up with the rest of his game, he should play more and more.”

Something that Jeter, a small forward, has done well all season is shoot from the outside. He's shooting 40 percent (10 for 25) from 3-point range; his first collegiate basket was a 3-pointer from the corner.

Accuracy from the perimeter has started to create opportunities for Jeter to get to the basket. Against defending national champion Kentucky on Jan. 10, he took advantage of the defense overplaying him for the three and was able to slip backdoor. He took a pass from point guard Kedren Johnson for an uncontested dunk.

His three field goals against the Gamecocks on Saturday were a pair of layups and a dunk.

Jeter's recent emergence has been a bright spot for the young Commodores (7-9, 1-3 SEC). With all but two players being either freshmen or sophomores, Vanderbilt has had its share of struggles this season. Twice the Commodores have been held to less than 40 points.

Perhaps that's why Stallings encouraged Jeter to look for his offense more. Perhaps that's why Jeter was inserted into the starting lineup.

Jeter has rewarded his coach's faith and, in the process, some of the moxie that defined his career at Beaver Falls has started to bubble to the surface.

He said he never really lost his confidence; he just needed his coach's approval to show it.

“(Stallings) told me how important I could be to the team this year if I approached my potential,” Jeter said. “That kind of made me want to work harder.”

Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com.

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