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Udoka Azubuike says he's open to trying underhanded free-throw technique

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Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) defends against a shot by Baylor guard Manu Lecomte (20) with seconds remaining, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) defends against a shot by Baylor guard Manu Lecomte (20) with seconds remaining, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

You don’t have to attend practice to know how seriously Udoka Azubuike is working on his game. You don’t have to hear him say it to know how badly he wants to improve.

You need only watch him compete in games to know all that because he’s steadily improving his footwork in the post, his presence as a post defender, his general aggressiveness.

He’s exerting a great deal of effort to improve and it’s working in every area but the one where trying too hard can be more of a detriment than a benefit. He so badly wants to become a competent free-throw shooter that he might be putting too much pressure on himself.

“Probably having bigger hands,” he said of one of the contributing factors to having trouble mastering the art of free-throw shooting. “I’m not losing hope. I know it’s going to come. I just have to keep working.”

I told him the story of NBA Hall of Fame forward Rick Barry, a career 90-percent free-throw shooter with an underhanded technique, teaching teammate George Johnson, a center, the method and Johnson going from a 40 percent to 80 percent shooter from the line. Barry said the method only works if a player has big hands. Azubuike qualifies.

Would he be open to trying it?

“Underhanded? Um, yeah, I guess, if that’s going to push my free-throw percentage way high I definitely would try it,” Azubuike said.

Wilt Chamberlain’s best NBA season at the free-throw line came in 1961-62, the year he shot underhanded. He shot only .613 from the line, but didn’t utilize the precise Barry technique.

I have talked with Barry via telephone and online through the years, but never asked him to articulate his technique.

He explained it to postgame.com in a 2013 story.

“Your hands have to be big enough to get over the top of the ball,” Barry told thepostgame.com. “And your thumbs should be even.”

Feet spread at shoulder-width, Barry takes a deep breath, puts his wrists in position, “then dips down and prepares to release the shot,” wrote the postgame.com.

“Just before I’m ready to shoot, I would just make a little cock of the wrist, which puts it into a total natural position, and it was kind of like my trigger to go,” Barry said. “When I bend, there’s no motion. There’s no movement of my arms. There’s no movement of my hands. Nothing happens. As I come up, I start to take my arms and swing my arms toward the basket, and that’s where you get the feel, to how much effort do I have to put into that arm swing. That’s where you have to practice.”

Then what?

“It’s a matter of the feel of when I actually take my hands and, when I get to about chest level, parallel to the floor, I just roll my hands together, and finish," Barry said. "It’s that simple.”

Florida guard Canyon Barry (24) goes old school with his underhand free throws during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri in Gainesville, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Florida won 93-54. (AP Photo/Ron Irby)

Florida guard Canyon Barry (24) goes old school with his underhand free throws during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri in Gainesville, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Florida won 93-54. (AP Photo/Ron Irby) by Ron Irby (Associated Press)

As with anything, it takes practice to perfect it. Canyon Barry, the fifth of Rick Barry’s basketball-playing sons, perfected it. Canyon, now playing overseasons, holds the University of Florida record for consecutive free throws (42), all attempted with the granny method, set in 2017.

Strangely, Canyon’s success didn’t lead to struggling free-throw shooters adopting the method.

In a recent Facebook exchange I had with Rick Barry on the topic of poor free-throw shooters not attempting a proven method, the Hall of Fame forward wrote, "I agree that it makes no logical sense whatsoever for players not to try the method. Their loss‼️"

Unless they try it, in which case it could be their gain, as well as the team's.

Azubuike leads the nation with a .773 field-goal percentage, many of those buckets coming on dunks. From the line, he's .411, numbers that call for emergency methods to be put into action. Might as well give it a try.

Comments

David McNickle 4 years, 10 months ago

Would probably help with his helicopter spin?

Freddie Garza 4 years, 10 months ago

I don't know why anyone who shoots under 60% wouldn't be open to the idea of shooting free throws underhanded. If it improves their percentage by 10%, it's worth doing.

Edward Daub 4 years, 10 months ago

According to Harlan Hobbs , the KU coaching staff is (arguably) the best in the country.

But , do we have a coach who can teach underhand free throws? I don't know!

Is it Legal to hire a Consultant, like Rick Barry? I don't know!

Stay tuned for further developments! Certainly, no harm in trying!

Dale Rogers 4 years, 10 months ago

My wife and I have been saying he should try underhanded. I also noted when he shoots and misses, he doesn't shoot the ball, he pushes it. And other times it looks like at the beginning of his motion he twists his wrists. In both cases he almost always misses. Nothing wrong with underhanded.

Pius Waldman 4 years, 10 months ago

True he doesn't shoot he simply throws the ball toward the goal. He needs to get his shooting hand behind the ball and guides the ball rather than throwing.

Philip Atkinson 4 years, 10 months ago

I also have commented many times that he should try this method. There are some great videos of Rick Barry teaching his style of free throw shooting online. By the time the "Big Dance" is here Dok could be shoot 20% better from the line or more. He is too much of an asset to have him riding the bench in the last few minutes of a close game. Give it a try. Not just a one practice try, a six week try of only shooting them underhanded! KU fans will applaud your improvement.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 10 months ago

It's one of those eternal mysteries as to why nobody tries it. I guess it's because players are afraid they'll be mocked, but wouldn't that mocking end really quickly if they greatly increased their FT numbers? And if they truly cared about winning over everything else, you would think they'd LOVE to give it a try.

The other thing that could help Dok improve dramatically is if he could just learn to master that baby hook shot that he always seems to shoot off the front of the rim. If he could just lift that shot a few inches and start making it consistently, he'd be virtually unstoppable. And imagine what an impact he could make if he mastered that shot AND started shooting FTs underhanded!

Jerry Walker 4 years, 10 months ago

And a nice spin move to his right would help. You see the defenders camping on his left shoulder.

Elliott Teters 4 years, 10 months ago

I just watched a documentary on Shaq. HIs team tried to convince him to shoot underhanded because of his poor make percentage, he wouldn't do it because he was afraid people would make fun of him. I wonder how many players have the same fear?

Andy Godwin 4 years, 10 months ago

Baylor did a very good job of fouling Udoka so he couldn't finish the shot. He is a tough kid, but took a pounding. Although big, he still has to feel those hits from both sides. Baylor prevented him from any chance of an and one and thus any points on the board most times. I will not comment about how to fix his free throw form (I am not 7 foot and trying to make important free throws in front of 16,300 people), because not only is he struggling with his form (each shot looks completely different), but the pressure from the crowd continues to mount (I unfortunately contributed to the groans heard after each miss). He will only get more opportunities, so Udoka keep working. The Jayhawk nation is behind you.

Robert Brock 4 years, 10 months ago

His foul shot makes me wince. He would be better off shooting hook shots from the stripe.

David Robinett 4 years, 10 months ago

The reason nobody tries it is fear of ridicule. You have to be mentally tough and also fairly proficient at it.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 10 months ago

Good one on 411.. LOL.. Why don't ask Dok to watch how Embiid get it done?

Dok, it's all repetition. Every day, push the ball straight upward with elbow extended all the way. Every day. Then combine it with finger rolling right before the ball leaves your palm. Snap your wrist. Every day. Even before you sleep. Get that wrist stretched, flexed and relax your palm. Last one is shooting position - you are already doing it right.

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