Making Free Throws!!

Posted Tuesday, February 06, 2007 by

Making free throws anything but routine
By Kevin Devaney Jr.
The Journal News

Stuart Bayer/The Journal News
Tony Taylor of Stepinac is one of the area's best foul shooters.

Free throws pay dividends
Free-throw shooting determines the outcomes of games all the time. Here are some of the biggest examples in area high school boys basketball this season:
Woodlands at Briarcliff, Dec. 6: Pressure free throws down the stretch decided this early-season matchup of Class B powers. Woodlands shot 13 of 24 for the game. Briarcliff's Alex Gulotta hit 8 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter, including four in the final nine seconds, as the Bears won 64-59.
Stepinac vs. Peekskill, Dec. 27: Tony Taylor scored a game-high 32 points for Stepinac in the stunning 73-69 win in the Slam Dunk Tournament. But what had the capacity crowd at the Westchester County Center buzzing was how Taylor hit 14 of 14 free throws, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
White Plains vs. Mater Dei, Jan. 6: White Plains nearly pulled off the upset of the year in the Westchester Elite Hardwood Classic at Pace University's Goldstein Center. But Mater Dei, then the No. 7-ranked team in the nation, didn't miss enough free throws. The visitors from Santa Ana, Calif., shot 27 for 34 from the line, while White Plains hit just 12 of 25 and lost 80-75.
Ossining vs. Stepinac, Jan. 7: Another Westchester Elite Hardwood Classic game that came down to free throws. Stepinac made just 5 of 12 from the line in the second half and lost 70-68 to Ossining, which hit 15 of 15 for the game.
White Plains at North Rockland, Jan. 16: The Tigers fended off a furious North Rockland comeback in the fourth quarter with clutch foul shooting. Following a pair of 3-pointers by Red Raiders guard Chris DeJesus that cut the deficit to seven, White Plains hit 10 of 11 free throws in the final 1:12 to seal the 64-56 win.

Kevin Devaney Jr.

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(Original publication: February 6, 2007)

Determined to be an elite offensive player, Michael Coburn took a few hundred jump shots every day last summer. He refined his technique and release, learned to properly use his legs, worked on shooting off the dribble and turned using the backboard into an art form.

Foul shots? Mount Vernon's star shooting guard thought for a moment and, with almost a puzzled look, offered an honest response.

"Not once," Coburn said. "I probably should have, but I never thought about it."

Few do, actually. Coburn, a senior headed to Rutgers, didn't necessarily need the practice, although his 67 percent free-throw shooting mark in his five-year career doesn't sound like much to boast about.

At the high school level, anything above 50 percent is respectable. Most coaches estimate their teams are shooting 60 percent from the line this season, a number that's haunting when they consider how many games are decided by fewer than five points.

These days, at just about every level of the game, free throws are anything but free.

"It's something that a lot of people take for granted," said Clarkstown North senior Craig Kolwicz, an 80 percent free-throw shooter. "People think that just because you have a good shot or can make 3s that you're able to shoot free throws. But it's a totally different shot."

Croton-Harmon coach Bill Thom is one of the best at teaching the proper technique. Just look at his 12-year-old son, Ian.

Thom taught Ian the fundamentals of foul shooting at an early age, and Ian's since won numerous prestigious free-throw shooting championships. The highlight was two years ago when Ian Thom won the Knights of Columbus International title, sinking all 25 attempts before a few hundred spectators at West Point.

"You've got to make sure your form is good and that you're fundamentally sound," Bill Thom said. "We do things at practice where we shoot with one hand, and a whole series of drills just to get the form down."

Stepinac junior Tony Taylor, arguably the best free-throw shooter at the high school level in the Lower Hudson Valley, has flawless technique, a result of hundreds of foul shots per week.

"The most I've ever hit in a row is 50," said Taylor, who's hit 93 of 107 (87 percent) from the line this season. "I just step to the line, wipe my hands, dribble twice and shoot. All I do is bend my knees, keep my elbow straight and follow through. I do it over and over."

Every player who excels at the lines says it's all about routine and comfort.

Kolwicz dribbles twice and never takes his eyes off the rim. Chris Koclanes of Pelham jumps on his release. The entire Iona Prep B team spent part of the season shooting free throws underhand, the way Rick Barry, a Hall of Famer and an 89 percent free-throw shooter in his pro career, did in the 1960s and '70s.

Liam McCabe-Moran of Rye has the most elaborate pre-shot routine. The senior guard gets the ball from the referee, tucks it under his arm, mimes one-handed attempts, spins the ball in his hands, bounces it three times, spins it again and shoots.

"You've got to do the exact same thing every time," said McCabe-Moran, who's hit 106 of 130 free throws (82 percent) this season. "You've got to get a routine. I also never take my eye off the rim and make sure my right foot is lined up with the middle of the rim. Then, just let your legs do the work."

Legs are essential to free-throw shooting, which is why most coaches practice during and after conditioning drills.

Byram Hills coach Ted Repa has his team spend 10 minutes in the middle of practice shooting five two-shot fouls and five sets of 1-and-1s. Each player's results get recorded for a weekly contest.

At the end of practice, Repa will put a player on the foul line for a 1-and-1. If he misses, the team runs. If he makes both, practice is over.

"We start the drill by giving the team a number of free throws we need to make in order to leave practice," Repa said. "Once we make them, we're done. Sometimes it takes five minutes. Other times, it's 20."

What makes foul shooting so frustrating for coaches is its unpredictability.

Ossining could point to free throws as the determining factor in its biggest victory - when it shot 14 for 14 against Stepinac - and its toughest loss - when it went 2 for 13 against Red Hook.

Hastings had a three-game stretch this season where it shot 34 for 43 from the line. The next three games, with mainly the same players shooting, the Yellow Jackets went 13 for 38.

"You try your best to simulate game-like situations at practice," Hastings coach Dennis Hurlie said. "But it's never the same for a kid in practice as it is against an opponent with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter of a tied game."