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This Year, Airey Will Get His Long Shots, and More : Capistrano Valley: Senior has worked on rebounding and passing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A few words to the wise: Beware of Tom Airey’s three-point shooting. A few words to the wiser: Beware of Airey’s passing, defense and rebounding.

Once thought of as merely a mad bomber from behind the 19-foot-9 arch, Airey has worked hard to change his one-dimensional image.

Sure, his role at Capistrano Valley is to shoot, and it will always be that way. But contrary to popular belief, Airey said he knows how to execute a bounce pass in traffic. He can get a hand in the face of an opposing shooter. And he knows how to box out beneath the basket.

He especially enjoys driving to the basket, dropping a pass off to one of Capistrano Valley’s big men and watching them score.

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As long as he keeps shooting three-pointers at the same staggering rate, however, he’ll probably always be known as a shooter.

There’s nothing wrong with that, said Airey, a 6-1 senior. Any cries of “ball-hog” or “gunner” from the stands go in one ear and out the other, Airey said.

“As far as the team is concerned, it’s really my role to shoot threes,” he said.

If he didn’t, Cougar Coach Mark Thornton wouldn’t be making full use of Airey’s skills.

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Last season it meant Airey shot 278 three-pointers, making 117. No one else in Orange County attempted even 150. He made more threes than all but one county player, Darren Gravley of Laguna Beach, attempted.

Tracy Murray of Glendora (now at UCLA) holds the Southern Section career record of 224 three-point baskets, set between 1987-89. If Airey continues at last season’s pace, he’s almost a cinch to break Murray’s mark.

Four days into the season, Airey, who will attend Loyola Marymount next year, matched his career-high with 10 three-pointers, against Riverside North in a 72-56 victory. He made 11, and scored 40 points, against Artesia in a summer-league game once, but those games don’t count in the record books.

The section record is 12, but Airey figures it will take some special circumstances to break it.

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“It’s got to come against a non-county team that doesn’t know me and it’s got to be against an out-of-control team,” Airey said.

Other teams have different plans, featuring all manner of defenses designed to stop Airey. It often involves a defender following Airey wherever he goes.

Sometimes those defenses stop Airey, but no matter. The Cougars are good enough to win a four-on-four game against most teams, Thornton said.

It can be frustrating to have his shooting stifled, but Airey said he tries to stay focused on helping the team in other ways. And when he gets open, he’s ready to fire away.

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Airey practices shooting often.

“In the off-season, I have to get to a gym,” he said. “Coach has been really good about coming down and letting me in to shoot.”

Next season, Airey will attend Loyola Marymount and attempt to follow the three-point shooting lead established by Corona del Mar’s Jeff Fryer.

“I idolize him,” Airey said. “He shot at all cost.”

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Airey can identify with that, even as he works to polish his other skills. Once a shooter, always a shooter.


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