Coaches reinforce importance of free-throw shooting
by Doug Gorman
Ask any high school basketball coach in Coweta County what makes them lose sleep, and they will probably say it's games lost at the free throw line. On the surface, it seems like an easy point or two for the team taking the trip to the line.
After all, it’s only 15 feet from the foul line to the basket.
Of course, the shooter also is unguarded. Hence why the free-throw line has long been regarded as the ‘charity stripe.’
Yet free-throw shooting isn’t always a sure thing.
In fact, it’s become a lost art as teams ride a roller-coaster of inconsistency. In some games, teams can’t miss, while in others, the ball just refuses to drop through.
There are some keys to accurate free throw shooting regardless of gender. Most coaches agree it centers on repetition and routine.
"We take it very seriously, devoting about 15 minutes a day during the season," said East Coweta boys coach Ronnie Vandiver. “We talk constantly about taking advantage of opportunities, take what the defense gives you, free throw shooting is an opportunity that successful teams take advantage of.”
Northgate head girls coach Matt Trucks calls free-throw shooting one of the three most important aspects of the game, along with preventing turnovers and rebounding.
“In a close game, if you are not shooting over 65 percent from the free-throw line, getting at least 15 rebounds on both ends of the floor, and also eliminating turnovers, I just don’t see wins,” Trucks said.
In his 16-year coaching career, Trucks has learned a team can go from a sure victory to a loss just because it didn’t hit free throws at the end of the game.
“You know if you have a lead, teams are going to start fouling to get the ball back,” Trucks said. “They are giving you a chance to score. [The] problem is, they get the ball right back, so you better hit your foul shots.”
Most players go through a set pattern each time they go to the foul line.
“I step up, and line my feet and I go through my shot,” said Northgate guard Ebonee Echols. “It’s something I have been doing since I was a freshman.”
Earlier this year against Ola, the Lady Vikings’ guard finished with 16 points, scoring all of her points from the free throw line after going 16 of 20.
Newnan girls head coach Lavarett Pearson is quick to emphasize how free-throw shooting can be a game-changer.
“They know free throw shooting can be the difference between winning and losing,” he said.
The Lady Cougars spend at least 20 minutes at each practice working on free throw shooting.
Recently, their effort from the line allowed Newnan’s girls to stay in its game with McIntosh despite a poor-shooting night elsewhere. The team connected on 32 of 39 attempts in a 68-52 loss.
“We just keeping working on it,” Pearson said. “Hopefully, we improve throughout the year.”
Vandiver also stresses routine and proper set up.
“It has its mental opportunities, but we stress proper setup and shooting mechanics,” he said. “We have found that the more meticulous a person is about their pre-shot routine, the more successful they are.”
Going through the same routine each time comes naturally for some most players, some almost in a supersticious fashion.
“I bounce three times, I spin the ball to get my hands right, then I look at the back of the rim and shoot the ball,” Northgate’s Lyric Underwood said.
Consistent free-throw shooting is something former East Coweta coach Paula Jones always stressed, and successor Jared Waggoner has continued to stress it to the Lady Indians this season.
“Free-throw shooting is the most important part of the game,” he said. “I tell them free-throw shooting matters just as much in the first quarter as the fourth quarter. If you get beat by five, and didn’t hit free throws early, that’s a problem.”
East Coweta girls basketball player Shemiah Sanchez has turned into one of the county’s most accurate free-throw shooters.
In Tuesday’s night’s victory over Tri-Cities, she hit 9 of 11 shots from the line en route to her 20-point outing to lead the Lady Indians in scoring.
Waggoner knows consistent free throwing shooting can propel his team to the win.
“We want to shoot 70 percent,” Waggoner said. “If we do that, we have a good shot at staying in the game.”
First-year Northgate boys head coach Maurice Smith has a specific approach to helping the Vikings become better free-throw shooters. The team connected on 19 of 31 attempts in Tuesday’s loss to Drew, which hit 22 of its 38 shots from the line.
“We practice shooting free throws toward the end of practice when we are tired, because we know we are going to be tired when we are shooting them at the end of the game,” Smith said. “We also go through the same rhythm and and routines each time too.”
There’s also plenty at stake for the Vikings when they are shooting free throws in practice.
“If we miss, we are going to do push ups,” Smith said. “That adds a little bit of pressure, because no one wants to be the reason the team is doing push ups.”