Cure to bad free throw shooting? Try underhand

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2009

You see it all too often. Your team needs to hit a couple of clutch free throws in the final seconds to ice a game.

The shooter steps to the line and — clank. Nothing is more frustrating to watch, for me at least, than to see someone who can’t make an unguarded shot from 10 feet away from the basket.

It happens at all levels, NBA, college and high school. I can’t tell you how many missed free throws I’ve seen at high school games around the area this season.

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Free throws are like the special teams of football. They are often overlooked, but immensely important to winning a game.

Just ask the Memphis Tigers. If Memphis could have knocked down some free throws in the final minute of last year’s NCAA Tournament championship game, they would have won the title.

Instead, their misses allowed Kansas to tie the game with a 3-pointer with a few seconds left and then win it in overtime.

Knowing this, I would think that a poor free throw shooter, of which there are many, would do just about anything to improve his or her stroke and hence improve their team’s chances of winning.

And there is a way, so long as the player isn’t too egotistical.

Yes, I am advocating the underhanded free throw or the “granny shot” as some people refer to it.

It might look a little silly, but the results are undeniable.

No one shoots free throw like that anymore, but back in the day, NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry made a living with it.

Barry, who scored over 25,000 points in his career and was a 90 percent free throw shooter retired in 1980, but is still the second-most accurate free throw shooter in NBA history.

And from 1978-1980, Barry missed a grand total of 19 free throws in 322 attempts.

And he did it all while shooting it underhanded.

A while back I was standing in an empty gym at a local high school waiting on the basketball team to come in so I could take some pictures.

There was a ball lying around, so I picked it up and started shooting to kill time.

Having not shot a basketball in quite a while, I clanked my first couple of jumpers before I moved to the free throw line to see if I could make a few.

After missing my first couple shooting normally, I tried the underhanded approach. The difference was quite amazing.

It really is a much simpler shot. The compact nature of the shot makes it more accurate and there is no spin on the ball, which means if it hits the rim, it is more likely to nestle into the cylinder.

To check out the proper way to shoot the free throw, head over to YouTube and type in Rick Barry free throws in the search engine. In theh video, Barry demonstrates the proper way to shoot an underhanded free throw.

So why does nobody shoot free throws like Barry, even though the results are proven?

It has to be ego. The shot does look kind of silly, and one can imagine the ribbing a guy who shoots free throws underhanded would take from opponents and even teammates.

But who can argue with making upwards of 90 percent of your free throws?

I’d rather shoot them underhanded and make them than shoot them the normal way and miss them, and I’m sure that some area coaches who have to sweat out some of their players trying to make free throws would agree with me.

Jeff Edwards is the sports editor for The Democrat. He can be reached at