Thursday, August 3, 2017


Tom Keegan: Solution to free-throw woes lies down under for Udoka Azubuike

Blue Team center Udoka Azubuike is fouled by Red Team guard Tyshawn Taylor during a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

Blue Team center Udoka Azubuike is fouled by Red Team guard Tyshawn Taylor during a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.


Udoka Azubuike has left the touring Kansas basketball fans and Italian spectators feeling as if they earned the price of admission by staging a dunking exhibition, starting with hard ones after which he hung on the rim, then adjusting to softer flushes at the high-volume behest of his coach.

Azubuike has hustled, deflected passes and even gone to the floor for loose balls. He has made himself ready for most, although not all, of the passes sent his way and will continue to improve in that area.

All good stuff, but he did nothing to quiet concerns about the gaping hole in his game: He can’t shoot free throws. If he doesn’t become significantly better, he leaves himself open to opponents employing a Hack-A-Dok strategy against him on a regular basis.

Atypically shy on front-court depth, Kansas needs its 7-footer on the floor as often as possible.

But if he can’t do better than his 2-for-6 performance in Rome, Kansas coach Bill Self must get creative with his lineup late in games when protecting leads.

It’s been six years since I’ve written about my No. 1 pet peeve in sports, so the statute of limitations has run out on being charged with repeating myself: Basketball players who struggle to make free throws must try shooting them underhanded, and coaches of those players must require them to give it a legitimate try.

Yet, throughout the entire sport of basketball, there is an unwritten macho code that prevents it from happening. It’s as if you must have the last name Barry to have the courage to try it.

I contacted Hall of Fame basketball player Rick Barry on the topic six years ago, and he summed up the root of the problem so well I saw no point in contacting him again.

“Ego,” Barry said by phone from his home in Colorado Springs. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a great way to shoot them. I don’t understand. How do they not do everything they can to get better? How do you live with yourself when you shoot so poorly? It’s called a free throw. It’s the only constant in the game. Same target. Same size ball. You get to miss one out of every five and still shoot 80 percent.”

Barry missed one out of every 10, retiring with a .900 mark. His son Canyon Barry exposed an entire new generation or two of basketball fans to the underhanded free throw during the NCAA tournament.

Playing for Florida as a graduate-transfer last season, Canyon Barry made 12 of 13 free throws in the tourney by using his famous father’s underhanded method. He shot .883 from the line for the season.

Azubuike doesn’t need to approach 90 percent from the line, but he must do better than the .379 he posted before a wrist injury ended his freshman season after 11 games.

It’s not unusual for big men to struggle from the free-throw line. For one thing, the shots they shoot in games tend to be much closer to the basket, so there is no need for them to develop perimeter jumpers. For another, their huge hands get in the way of ideal spin, the way a pitcher with abnormally long fingers struggles to get the proper spin on a changeup.

The way the underhanded shot is tossed, with the hands on the sides and wrists flicked toward the hoop, the long fingers don't factor in the equation.

Barry insists that it doesn’t take long to teach his method and big men shouldn’t have any trouble picking it up. Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant individual in the sport’s history, had the best free-throw percentage of his career, .613, tossing them granny style. Embarrassed, Wilt reverted to the conventional method and in six different seasons, he shot .446 or worse. It was the only thing he couldn’t do on a basketball court and we’ll never know how much better he could have done it had he stuck with the unconventional method for the duration of his career.

During his days with the Golden State Warriors, Barry taught 6-foot-11 center George Johnson how to use his method and Johnson, who had a .412 accuracy rate as a rookie, shot .806 from the line by his fifth season.

Defenders will do their best to keep Azubuike from getting into position to dunk and in the process, they will commit foul after foul.

Sure, he would be teased in enemy gyms. So what? Bottom line: It’s not how a free throw looks at release that matters, but rather how it looks on the scoreboard.


Suzi Marshall 11 months, 2 weeks ago

One would think EGO would be the reason why guys like Doke, who shoot FTs under .500, would want to try underhanded shots. Doke is taking himself out of the game for critical endings.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Underhand free throws look old school cool to me. Certainly better than clanking them over and over again.

Joe Ross 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Udoka should NEVER shoot freethrows underhanded. If the same effort that it would take to teach him that shot and get him the reps were instead channeled into teaching him to shoot conventionally, he would do just as well. Big guys just dont shoot em like guards do!

(Someone will now point out a big man who shoots fros exceptionally well, while ignorning the fact that such an anecdote is exceptional.)

Phil Leister 11 months, 2 weeks ago

You're kinda missing the point. It doesn't take the same effort to teach the underhanded shot as it does the conventional shot. At least that's what anecdotal evidence shows. That said, the only way for Dok to know is to try it. Because it can't be worse than what he's doing now.

Joe Ross 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Im not missing the point. There aren't many things that go into teaching the conventional shot. Elbow in. Bend the knees. Straighten out finishing on your toes. Shoot softly. Arc the ball as you aim for the back center of the rim.

There is no point missed here. A free throw shot is not rocket science.

If you want to change something, change the practice. Get the shot maker or whatever its called (the machine developed by Mark Juhl of Bendena, KS).

Phil Leister 11 months, 2 weeks ago

So you think no one has properly taught Dook to keep his elbow in, bend the knees, straighten out finishing on your toes?

Keegan's point is that trying the underhanded shot can't be any worse. Saying he should NEVER shoot free throws underhanded is definitely missing the point.

Do you know the definition of insanity?

Shannon Gustafson 11 months, 2 weeks ago

You're certainly missing the points stated above about why big men with large hands struggle to shoot free throws the conventional way.

Have you ever tried to shoot a softball like a basketball? It's WAY harder than a basketball for the same reason many guys with big hands struggle with free throws.

How do you explain all of the evidence stated above showing guys shooting a significantly higher percentage underhand, even when they spent way more time practicing and shooting the traditional way?

Steve Quatrocky 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Its not How, its How Many (you make). If shooting underhanded helps the team, then egos must be put aside just like Coach Self requires from all players when it comes to running offense.

Joe Ross 11 months, 2 weeks ago

To me its not just a question of ego. Not only do you have to teach a new method, but you have to unlearn another one. The Barry's and whoever else learned free throw shooting underhanded. With Udoka, not so. But we're so used to seeing the consistency of those guys who shot it that way all their life that we just think " this instead."*


If Udoka has the ability and the determination to improve his free throw shooting underhanded, then he certainly has those things available to help him shoot it better the conventional way--a way he doesn't have to switch to.

Phil Leister 11 months, 2 weeks ago

So if I want to learn how to play the piano, do I have to unlearn how to play the guitar?

They're not mutually exclusive. Same goes for free throw shooting methods.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm pretty sure he's probably shot FTs conventionally for a number of years. If that's led him to this result, why not try another method? Lots of people can perform the same skill with a different method.
This reminds me of the "definition" of insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

11 months, 2 weeks ago

This is the worst argument ever Joe, I'm sorry. Doesnt make any sense. If you are bad at something, practice, or try something else. Practice clearly has not worked in this instance. And, if you watch closely, he just has no touch from the FT line - just like Shaq. You can't practice that into effect. Agree with Phil and Karen, completely.

Michael Bennett 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Joe, as Tom pointed out in the article, underhanded free throws are easy to learn and do not counteract overhanded shooting. It's radically different so it doesn't "unlearn" the overhanded muscle-memory. It's just a new skill on the side. It works because it is a smoother motion that can easily be controlled by two hands, and it's not guarded. Free throw shooting is not the time to practice your jump shot, it is the time to capitalize on free points. Underhanded shooting has achieved this objective for those who have tried it, Udoka might as well try it.

Bob Bailey 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Joe, have respected a lot of your opinion. But this time you've got it wrong!

Being 90 there is a bit more background here. Learning FT shooting around 1941 or earlier, there is nothing to it. As a rank learner 70% or more was NOT unusual. Seems the problem showed up about the time our big guy transferred to LMHS. He coaches in the SE now. (sorry, 8 yr ago stroke has blocked names for me). They could not adopt his spatial concept from shooting on the move, to spot location! The real problem is located in the parasympathetic system. It probably relates back to heredity 100,000 years ago, or more. The basic problem is your brain, thru heredity, can not adapt your hunting skills from leading prey to standing prey. That is a tremendously difficult undertaking!

Barry figured it out a long time ago. It is easier to adapt yourself rather than changing your automatic brain system. The real problem is that the coaches let the players do whatever they wanted. It has caused far more trouble in free throws than there was 50-60 yrs ago!

Ryan Zimmerman 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Get him a pop a shot for his dorm room... just fire them over and over and over. I assume it's a similar effort for a big man like Dok

Bob Zielinski 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Underhand deserves a shot. Try shooting a mini basketball through an 8 foot rim from the free throw line traditional style and underhand. Big men don't have the proper touch when dealing with a regulation basketball, their hands are too big and they are too strong to properly launch the ball the proper distance, on line and with the proper arc.

Bob Bailey 11 months, 2 weeks ago

It is a bit easier than that. Parasympathetic is a brain set requires no thinking. It responds instantaneously to infed nervous reports. You can generally remember it, but not always. It is present in some form from garter snakes to elephants. You need to find a comfort zone, easier underhand. Yes, you have to develop consistency with it. That is step one. Maybe you get help. You close your eyes and tell your system to regenerate what is working. It should duplicate every muscles response from your big toe to your top head of hair. Get your help to aid your success at that point. In a game, take your position, then call on your system to regenerate everything.

We had a lot of good FT's last year. If you understand the system, you can see it applied. Most of them relaxed, called on the system and hit dead center. Our Player of the Year was excellent. You can see the tiredness; and occasionally it may make you wonder whether they tried to relax with pot. That will put you in the 25% range.

Brian Shain 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Traditionally big men struggle more than guards from the line. Big men have bigger hands, longer arms, etc. They are taller so the angle of the shot is different. Have you ever tried to shoot a little nerf ball. It's harder because the ball is smaller. I believe this is what makes it harder for guys like Udoka. This is why he doesn't have the touch or feel. Underhanded is a natural motion that would negate all the reasons that overhanded is so difficult. Same reason why girls can pitch underhanded all day while guys can only pitch so many pitches without having problems. He's obviously been practicing without getting better. Why not at least try it and see if you can make 50%?

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