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The art of the free throw

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By Ryan Naus

Over the course of a game, players go to the free throw line, making or missing the only shot they’ll take in a game without a defender in their face.

Fifteen feet are all that stands between a player and the basket. They have to zone out the crowd’s noise or their silence. They can’t think about the pressure of the situation or about the consequences of a missed shot. A free throw is the test of a player’s resolve and resiliency.

As the district tournament approaches, free throws could easily make or break a team’s season and area players and coaches understand the importance the shots can play over a course of a game.

“I’m a big free throw person. I think it’s very important in the game of basketball,” GCHS girls’ coach Darrell Guffey said. “I was fortunate to have a high school coach who really emphasized it. Our players will soon start realizing if they can get to the free throw line and make free throws, that’s the one time I think it’s OK to be selfish in basketball.

“It comes through practice and repetition. A player who doesn’t spend much time working at the free throw line is going to be more nervous in a game situation. The more time you spend, the more comfortable you feel and that’s the key to making free throws. Feeling comfortable and confident when you go to the free throw line helps. I want to see a player start clapping when they get fouled because they know they are going to the free throw line to make free throws. So much of it is confidence and so much of it is practice,” Guffey said.

For Williamstown girls’ coach Mark Wilhoit, making free throws is about slowing down and taking a moment to breathe.

“I want the players to slow down and breathe,” Wilhoit said. “You have to breathe to relax. If they’re shooting short, I may tell them to look at the back of the rim. It’s about slowing down.

“I think the hardest part is getting over the mental part of missing one. No one is perfect. But you can’t let the mental aspect of missing bother you. It’s more of relaxing. If you miss one, you miss one. Just make the next one.”

Grant County boys’ coach Ron Kinmon believes that free throw shooting is a part of the game that has been forgotten.

“Free throw shooting is a lost art. It’s the only shot in the game you get to shoot where the other team isn’t trying to stop you from making it,” Kinmon said. “You have to take advantage of getting to the free throw line and make them when you get the opportunity.

“Any good free throw shooter has a routine,” he said. “It’s like golf where they have the same routine every time they step up to the tee. If you get into the same habits, you’re less likely to make a mistake.”

Williamstown boys’ coach Stacey May has seen his team ride hot and cold streaks at the free throw line, sometimes sealing wins at the line and sometimes letting a win slip through their hands as the ball sails off the rim.

“Free throws are half the basketball game,” May said. “It comes down to focus. It’s tough to get players to truly focus when there’s no punishment or reward, so we’ll attach running to it sometimes,” May said. “Our team is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this year. When it comes to free throws, we’re either going to be a team that can play with anybody or a team that anybody can beat. We struggle as far as execution sometimes and other times we execute.”

Dealing with a hard foul

“You’ve got to let it go and forget about it,” Demon Wes Philpot said. “You’ve got to go to the line just like any other time. I shoot them the same, whatever the situation. I want to be on the line because I don’t let pressure get to me.”

Setting up the routine

“Free throws don’t stress me out,” Lady Brave Candace Gorby said. “Free throws are just another shot, if not easier. I think it helps shooting free throws to have that attitude. Some players are intimidated, but I just do my routine and shoot.

“I get the ball, spin it twice, bounce it and when I bounce it, I pull my shorts. I spin it again and line my middle finger on the dot and shoot it. I’ve been doing it since the seventh grade and I went to a NKU basketball camp. It’s the feeling of doing the same thing over and over. It puts you in the zone of not thinking about anything else,” she said.

Blocking out the fans

“The noise isn’t even a factor. It’s almost like it’s complete silence,” Brave Kody Thompson said. “It’s your own thoughts that are going through your head. You’re in your own world. Shooting them every day and getting a rhythm where every shot is the same is important. Finding the shot you’re comfortable with helps.”

Dealing with the makes and the misses

“I focus on doing my best, because if I don’t do my best, it won’t go in,” Lady Demon Jaclyn Stith said. “If you make free throws down the stretch, I think about how we put it all together because I’m thankful about everything else that happened on the way to the free throws. If you miss it, you keep thinking about how you lost the game, but you’ve got to blow it off so next time it comes around you have the chance to redeem yourself. It comes down to confidence and focus.”