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