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Shooting, shooting, hoping to score ; NCCC star looks to earn his ticket to 4-year school

The game was in hand. Did Robby Seyler lose his mind?

His AAU team had the ball, a two-point lead, and nobody was trying to foul him. Here at Niagara University's Kiernan Center, all Seyler had to do was dribble out the clock. The other team conceded defeat.

And then -- for some bizarre reason -- Seyler shot the ball.

"I'm looking at him like, 'How does he not realize where he is?' " said Seyler's AAU coach and current Niagara County Community College coach, Bill Beilein. "But that's also what you love about him."

With someone like Seyler, you'll take the occasional brain freeze. He's a one-track-minded scorer, a 6-foot-2 shooter, gunning for a Division II scholarship at a four-year school.

After finishing high school as Lew-Port's all-time leading scorer (1,785 points), Seyler chose to play for Beilein at NCCC.

In year two, he's averaging 22.3 points per game, good for ninth in the country. As a result, the Thunderwolves (9-2) keep soaring into national relevancy. In the past NJCAA Division II top 15 poll, the JUCO school received one vote.

The recruiting process is heating up for Seyler, who is eyeing Division II schools. Ave Maria near Naples, Fla., and Mercyhurst in Pennsylvania are two possible destinations.

If Seyler gets stronger, maybe a D-I bites. Either way, his goal is the same -- play basketball as long as possible.

"You never know. Never say never," Seyler said. "If you tear up a D-II school, they're going to look at you. I know a ton of players that went D-II and played overseas. I'm a shooter, and a lot of those foreign teams look for spot-up shooters."

A lot of kids want the ball in their hands. A lot of kids like to score. But after coaching him for eight years, in AAU and at NCCC, Beilein has seen Seyler do it at a video-game rate.

"He can score in transition," Beilein said. "He can score in the lost art of the mid-range pull-up. He can score coming off screens for 3s. And he's athletic, too. I think he catches people off guard because they look at him, and he doesn't look like much, and the next thing you know he has 10 in the first five minutes."

A big Adam Sandler fan, Seyler is self-admittedly goofy. At practice, he'll relapse into Billy Madison at times. Said Beilein, "He'll have that 'Huh!?' look."

But make no mistake, Seyler is dialed in. The root of his focus -- he's shooting 60 percent this season -- can be found every Sunday at Frontier Lanes in Lewiston. That's dollar bowling night. Ever since he was little, Robby has competed with his brother, Terry, in the bowling alley. Back when Robby was 8 years old, he even won a city bowling championship in Niagara Falls.

Today, Terry Seyler, a 21-year-old physics student at Niagara University, usually wins. Robby bowls in the 170s; Terry, around 200.

The weekly challenge is therapeutic. Seyler is forced to calm emotions, deflect all distractions and deliver results. "Making spares," he said, is stressful, "because if you miss a spare, you lose your whole game."

It all feeds Seyler's hunger for the ball when it matters most.

Late in the game, Seyler needs the ball in his hands.

"Robby really shines in the last five minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the game," Beilein said. "He's an energy guy and has a relentless motor. When other guys are starting to get a little bit tired, he's able to keep that momentum going."

Funny thing is, Seyler didn't even play basketball until he was 12 years old. A friend from his baseball team asked him to play in a 3-on-3 tournament in Lewiston. They took second place, and Seyler hasn't stopped playing basketball since.

"The day after that tournament, he hasn't stopped playing basketball," said Seyler's dad, Robert. "He's always been a natural-born athlete."

Fast-forward to today, and Seyler Sr. is in the stands watching Robby pour in 30 points with NCCC. It took dad a long drive through a blizzard to get to Pitt-Titusville, but son made the trip worth it.

With an emphatic dunk in transition, Seyler led the Thunderwolves to an 82-62 win.

OK, so the passing will come.

Beilein gets after Seyler at practice. Always has. Always will. Just two years ago, Beilein said, Seyler started to pass.

"At first, he wasn't thinking to pass at all," Beilein said. "Then, when we were having him pass, it was above their head, it was below their feet, it was behind them."

Seyler is getting there. This year, Beilein sees strides in his all-around game. It's not that Seyler was ever selfish. On-court narcissism has nothing to do with Seyler's quick trigger. No, there's a different reason behind Seyler's head-scratching shots.

And it's what elevates Seyler from the pack each game. It's what will get him to a D-II school somewhere next season.

"I think it's just his love for scoring," Beilein said. "And that's what makes him so dangerous -- his love for scoring."

e-mail: tdunne@buffnews.com

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