The clock is stopped, your feet on the line, heart pounding. You’re inside of a silent gym filled with classmates, coaches, parents, and staff, all waiting for that ball to trickle down the basket, and put our team ahead. This one foul shot could be the difference between a smile and an after party or a long, quiet bus ride home.
[singlepic id=841 w=320 h=240 float=right]
“Many teams win and lose games because of free throws,” Keene State College senior basketball player Ryan Martin said. “It has kind of become the lost art in basketball, because so many people spend more time shooting threes, than free throws.” Martin is shooting 92 percent from the foul line, having made 88 of his last 95 free throws. When asked what he believes it takes to become a good free throw shooter, Martin responded, “Historically a lot of the players with the worst percentages are the big bulky guys. You need to have a soft touch at the line and a solid routine when you go to shoot. When I step to line, before every shot I dribble three times, spin the ball, and give the same flick of my wrist. I’ve taken thousands of shots, never changing that routine.”
Fellow teammate John Boyatsis also has a similar ritual when shooting from the line. “I just give two bounces, a deep breath, wait two seconds and focus on the rim, and then I let her rip.” The art of shooting a free throw has been said to be a technically taught skill, but also has been said to come naturally.
Assistant Coach John Adams said, “I think free throws are a type of form shooting. Since they are so basic and repetitious it is easy to show a guy the proper way to do it. Sometimes when a player is having a poor shooting night we tell him to get to the line and make some shots.” On the other hand, Martin believes that “the build a player has greatly influences how good he or she will be at shooting free throws. You don’t see guys as big as Shaq or Dwight Howard often being good at shooting free throws. It’s all about having that soft touch and generally the smaller guards have that.”
Martin entered the national free throw shooting competition at the young age of 12, starting in his home town, Wayne, Maine. Martin traveled all over the country making shot after shot and inevitably was crowned as the best free throw shooter in America.
Currently in the LEC (Little East Conference) Martin is at the top of the list when it comes to free throw percentage. The next man down, Joe Ives from ECSU, is shooting 85 percent from the line, making Martin’s percentage a solid 7 percent out of reach.
“I hate this question, but it comes down to practice. Coach makes us shoot 50 free throws a day, so 350 shots a week is a significant amount of shots taken. I bet if you asked the guy with the lowest percentage how much he shoots from the line every week, it is probably way less than 350 times. It’s turned into muscle memory for me and once you feel like you can do something in your sleep, that’s when you will exceed at that task.”
Boyatsis chimed in as he overheard Martin talk about the 50 assigned free throws from coach and may have thrown the team under the bus a bit.
“No one else shoots those free throws a day. Marty’s the only one who will consistently stay and shoot until he’s done. That’s why we all hope he’s fouled, because it’s just easy points.” Coach Adams spoke about Martin’s above average percentage.
“First off Ryan as always been a phenomenal shooter. But it is the drive, hard work, and mental edge, that gives him the one up over many other players. Free throws are one of his many strengths and makes him that much more valuable as a player on our team.
As Martin walks away, he’s stopped with a final question, “The games tied, double OT, you get fouled and you’re sent to the line. What’s going through your head?” Martin replied, “Confidence. I tell myself that I’ve done it so many times and this time is no different. That’s the difference between being good at free throws and being great.”
Luke Flood can be contacted at email@example.com