Monday, June 27, 2011


Underhanded free-throw shooting underrated


The man on the other end of the phone called back too late to help me prepare for Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Hoops for Men’s Health free-throw shooting contest Sunday in Allen Fieldhouse, but in time to assure me I’m not the only one perpetually puzzled by a basketball mystery.

Why, if a basketball player is a poor free-throw shooter, doesn’t he or she try the method preferred by a man who did it better than anyone before him?

Why doesn’t the struggling shooter learn to shoot free throws under-handed, the way Hall of Famer Rick Barry shot them?

“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.”

Athletes so aggressively seek an edge they risk getting banned by taking performance-enhancing drugs, but lousy shooters shun a perfectly legal means of improvement.

Athletes are nothing if not copy-cats of successful methods, except when it comes to free throws.

Barry, the only man to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring, retired with a (since-broken) record .900 accuracy rate from the line. As a rookie, Barry’s teammate with the Golden State Warriors, center George Johnson, shot .412 from the stripe. Barry taught him his technique, and four seasons later, Johnson shot .806.

Why that didn’t start a trend boggles the mind.

A few decades later, Andris Biedrins is the Warriors’ center. He made 16 percent of his free throws last season, prompting coach Don Nelson to suggest he try Barry’s methods. He didn’t, of course. He’s twice the shooter (.323) this season, which is another way of saying he’s horrendous.

In sports, substance trumps style every time, except with free throws.

Wilt Chamberlain improved when he copied Barry, but went back to the conventional method, explaining in his 1973 autobiography, “I felt silly, like a sissy.”

Barry talked to Shaquille O’Neal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and had him convinced he could turn him into a good free-throw shooter, but Barry couldn’t talk Del Harris into hiring him as Shaq’s tutor.

“Imagine if Shaq shot 80 percent (as did George Johnson),” Barry said. “He would have been a go-to guy, instead of going to the bench at the end of games. He would have won a lot more championships.”

Under-handed free-throw shooters aren’t extinct. A promising, skinny, late-bloomer of a basketball player who had three half-brothers who played in the NBA (Jon, Brent and Drew) and another who played at Kansas University (Scooter) uses the method.

Canyon Barry, entering his senior year in high school, uses the method Rick Barry learned from his father.

“I didn’t want to, but he was so dang relentless I ended up doing it my junior or senior year of high school, and it changed everything,” Barry said. “It changed everything.”


Funhawk 11 years, 1 month ago

Underhanded free throws - now those bring back memories - like a jump shot without jumping, knee guards and elbow pads, short shorts and skimpy, skinny tops .... high top sneakers with a flat top haircut. Wooden back boards and crackerbox gyms with ears ringing the next day. Wilt felt silly shooting underhanded free throws because he intentionally looked silly shooting them. Players were individually more unique back then. Thanks for the fun memories, Tom Keegan.

clevelandjayhawker 11 years, 1 month ago

This article's title screamed KEEGAN and what do you know...he wrote it

Request- You tube of Tom Keegan shooting freethrows in th eunderhand fashion

Jared Grillot 11 years, 1 month ago

And yet, for all the detractors, it makes a sick kind of sense. If you were told by highly credentialed and qualified people that you could double your income at your same job by wearing striped bell bottoms to work every day, would you do it? Yeah, I think I would.

BCRavenJHawkfan 11 years, 1 month ago

We had a guy in high school (1974 - 75) that shot them underhand. But he kissed 'em off the backboard with that little toss. NEVER MISSED!

KGphoto 11 years, 1 month ago

Shaq is to free-throws as Sir Charles is to golf.

He's The Big Queasy at the line. He doesn't shoot free-throws, he shot puts them. It's just painful to watch. They should let him take a half-spin in the top of the key and chuck it from under his chin. That would be less horrible than the nails-on-a-chalkboard method he used his whole career. You could tell he tinkered with it, but it always came back to one factor. He has no rhythm.

You know he can't dance just by watching his total lack of rhythm at the line. Good shooters have a little bounce, a little rock, draw the ball up smooth and a nice release. Shaq looks like he's about to fall out of a canoe. I've always thought that about FTs. You have to have rhythm to hit 'em. You don't have to be a great dancer, but just have a basic, natural, born-with-it, rhythm.

Unless, of course, you are doing it like a sissy, baby and under-handing it. :-)

Jack Wilson 11 years, 1 month ago

I guess Scooter switched to the method .. the article says "uses" .. I would have to speculate that Scooter uses the underhand method in a men's league, since he's probably in his mid-40s.

And while at Kansas, of course, Scooter did not use the method while hitting clutch free throws vs. K-State and Oklahoma in the NCAAs.

zsn 11 years, 1 month ago

I could have sworn that Scooter (and at least one more player in the Larry Brown era) shot freethrows underhanded during a game, in Allen. Was it Cedric or Keith Harris?

Can someone with better memory/Google-skills confirm/refute?

Funhawk 11 years, 1 month ago

I was thinking Keith Harris, although I cannot find any mentionings in the LJW. Ha ha- there is a LJW Bill Mayer hooker column from March 20,1959 that goes like this: “One strong indication of how college basketball offenses have changed in a fairly short time is provided by a check of the scoring leaders for the Big Eight teams of the past season. In the early 1950's when mammoth Clyde Lovellette was hooking them in for Kansas, tall centers generally led their teams in scoring." By the late '50s, this was not always the case. The article goes on to document the demise of the hook shot and its big tall Lovellette centers dominating the game. Bill Mayer's column is also a play on the word "hooker," calling the best players using the hook shot "hookers" and "hook happy." This 1959 LJW sports article concludes, “Oh, you still see some hooking nowadays, but right now the jumpshot is the pet of cagers at all levels in the wider open game. It looks like it will stay No. 1 for a long time.” Bring back the true, fun hook shot! P.S. This 1959 LJW sports article has a cartoon head of Bill Mayer with a flat top. Hookers had flat tops, too!

100 11 years, 1 month ago


Interesting stuff. KU has had many underhanded free throw shooters over the years, perhaps only one I can think of past 1975 or so.

As for Keith Harris I recall him cooly stepping to the line as a Freshman (with about a second left and us down 1 (in Madison Square Garden against St. John's (at the time a big game for the winningnest programs, both teams were in the top 4 alltime back then).

Keith... pure as gold, smooth as silk hit them both with a traditional shooters set shot flick of the wrist (like we see now) & we won.

That was one of those games (like the one in Allen Fieldhouse against Memphis State) where as Kansas players, coaches, adinistrators & fans... I think anyone associated with the program as well as the national audience, realized Kansas was indeed "baaack" to being it's usual blueblood self. This was important because a year or two before we suffered during our last year with Ted Owens a losing season (something like 13-14), something that was hard to manage as a supposed "Blueblood"...

Thanks to Keith Harris's free throws, much sooner than later, we had announced our return.

Jared Grillot 11 years, 1 month ago

Have to wade through a bit of grammar there to see that he is actually referring to Canyon Berry in that sentence (late-bloomer...uses).

Carl O'Hair 11 years, 1 month ago

This is an interesting group of comments but some of them tell it just like Rick Barry says it without really saying it. Barry, when asked why nobody will use the method he used to shoot over 90% replied, "Ego". That is the whole answer, in my opinion. Barry even tells about trying to make Shaq into a go to guy at the end of close games instead of sitting him down in fear he would be fouled. Shaq didn't have the guts to take a chance of getting made fun of.

Hey, I always shot two handed from the beginning of my playing days to the end and even in the late 40s and 50s people only laughed at me until they saw the success I had. Barry is so right about why all should at least give the method an extended try . Here is a video with Barry explaining it all and he makes too much sense.

BCRavenJHawkfan 11 years, 1 month ago

I think he just won the Dr. Pepper free throw contest!

Ben Kane 11 years, 1 month ago

Wilt sums it up. No one will do this because they will be ridiculed. If one person starts doing this not minding what people say and he shoots over 90% someone else will try it and then it may catch on again. elbow pads, knee pads, and jump shots without jumping will probably never be seen again.

Jonathan Allison 11 years, 1 month ago

if the underhanded free throw can make a comeback, then so can the no-jump set shot. It's limited in it's applicability, because it's very easy to block... but if it could improve a shooter's 3 pt percentage by 20% then I could see it making a comeback. I believe that many women basketball players still use the no-jump method...

BCRavenJHawkfan 11 years, 1 month ago

Set shot! That would be Brady's shot, right?

nuleafjhawk 11 years, 1 month ago

I'm pretty sure that Kentucky is already coaching underhanded.

Ben Kane 11 years, 1 month ago

or Ollie for Hoosiers. Would have been sweet if he did them like that in Teen Wolf.

actorman 11 years, 1 month ago

It upset you so much that you read the article and took the "time" to post on it. That'll show him!

TheGiftedOne 11 years, 1 month ago

I dont really expect improvement...just sucks to see mediocre talent get paid to put out crap...just holding the media to the same standard they hold athletes too.

Ryan Wood 11 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, there's so much to write about on June 27th in Lawrence.

I thought it was a real interesting column. It reminded me a little bit of Mike Marshall, the former Major League pitcher who swears that he knows how to prevent arm injuries in pitchers, only nobody will listen to him.

In a sport with billions of dollars and jobs at stake, why not at least listen?

TheGiftedOne 11 years, 1 month ago

I can think of plenty of things to write about right now...anything about the football team besides these crap rankings that Keegan adds nothing too...ANYTHING about the WBB team because that never happens in the summer. Its not my job to come up with things to write about but this article was a waste or time and effort.

Ryan Wood 11 years, 1 month ago

Most people disagree with you. i don't know what your job is, but maybe you should stick to that.

Soilworkers 11 years, 1 month ago

I completely agree GiftedOne. There are many other topics to choose from in June BESIDES this waste of reading. Women's World Cup, Baseball, Wimbledon, etc. the list goes on.

Funhawk 11 years, 1 month ago

Categorize this article under "sports technique." In every sports game, the viewers and announcers discuss the techniques being used by the players. The underhanded free throw shot was once common when you see old black and white clips of Jayhawk games, for example. I thought this article of Tom Keegan's was one of his best. I enjoy his articles that make me reminisce - because when you can say, "I remember when...." you know you haven't died young.

Make_Ur_Free_Throws 11 years, 1 month ago

Free throws are so key to the game it always amazes me how players don't seem to work on them more to improve their %! When you have a big man in the paint with the ball it's inevitable he'll be fouled . . . usually repeatedly! So free throws are a MUST for his game! Wayne Simien is a model for KU big men with his 81.5% from the line college mark; those extra points are everything!

I don't care how the players shoot them . . . they just need to fall! A 3-ball is a beautiful thing, but more games are won or lost at the line! I do love to see a 3-ball shooter fouled and make the three at the line anyway! That is truly beautiful, and shows a players character and commitment to all facets of the game!

jaybate 11 years, 1 month ago

"Some Other Under-Rated Techniques in Basketball"

~Bounce pass of another player's gametes--player uses a baseball pass aimed squarely at the opposing player's gonads to in effect bank the ball to another player cutting to the basket.

~The Reverse Recumbent Free Throw--player sits on the floor facing away from the basket in the position of a sprocket head on a recumbent bicycle and uses his elevated Nikes to flick and kick the ball over and behind his head up to the basket.

~The Behind the Knee Rebound--player leaps and cartwheels high above other players catching the rebound with suction pocket formed by the back side of his knee, clamps the ball and rounds off.

~The Knuckle Spitter Cherry Pick Pass--player grabs rebound, turns, applies moisture to ball surface, digs in all five finger nails to the surface of the basketball, winds and lets go a soft floater down court that no defenders can anticipate the path of with sufficient accuracy to intercept.

~Sonny Meyers Sleeper Hold on the Low Post--player grabs offensive postman's head and wraps it in a figure eight lock that asphyxiates opponent without killling him.

~Jesse Ventura Seal Threat Faint--player tells opposing defender that he is a former US Navy Seal and know at least 10 ways to kill him with his bare hands, if he interferes with player's drop step and dunk move.

(Note: All fiction. No malice.)

KGphoto 11 years, 1 month ago

That's the most hilarious post I've ever read. I just realized I let out a wheezing sound when I get to a certain level of laughter.


Benjamin Clay Jones 11 years, 1 month ago

I don't understand--does shooting free throws underhanded look more ridiculous than walking around with exposed underwear and saggy pants, and having to hold them up with one hand so they don't fall down? No one seems to mind doing that for the world to see.

Stan Crown 11 years, 1 month ago

Different sport, but it didn't bother Dan Quisenberry to go "underhanded", at least on the pitcher's mound. Something tells me he'd have shot free throws underhanded if it gave him an edge.

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