Kentucky's poor free-throw shooting has Kyle Macy back in the spotlight

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 1, 2014 

  • Next game

    Mississippi St. at No. 15 Kentucky

    When: 8 p.m. Jan. 8

    TV: SEC Network

Looking on the bright side, Kentucky's free-throw shooting this season has invigorated UK basketball icon Kyle Macy's popularity.

"I've had more people say, 'You should go work with them,'" he said this week.

Macy's free-throw accuracy of 89 percent remains a UK career record (later tied by Jodie Meeks). UK's accuracy of 66.5 percent so far this season ranks 254th among Division I teams. Or, if you prefer, 11th best among the 14 Southeastern Conference teams.

NCAA rules prohibit help from outside the staff. But a check with Macy and another former UK dead-eye free thrower, Jim Master, revealed no secret formula. They recommended the standard idea of developing a routine.

"To get you in a mini trance," Macy said, "and help you relax."

Then practice-practice-practice.

"The most important thing is a guy has got to want to be good free-throw shooter," Macy said. "You can teach them how to shoot. But if they're not really into it or not willing to make changes, then it's not going to happen."

Assuming UK players want to shoot free throws more accurately (and the 16-for-30 hit-or-miss against Louisville last Saturday provided additional incentive), the next ingredient is patience.

"You can't do it overnight," Macy said. "It's got to be something you work on."

Macy and Master, who ranks fourth on UK's career list for free-throw accuracy (84.9 percent), noted how their diligence began in childhood.

For Macy, a grade-school team coach had his players shoot 10 free throws at the end of each practice. "I always wanted to be the one to make the most," Macy said. "It grew from there."

Macy's free-throw routine, copied by a generation of Kentucky children, began with setting his right foot at the center of the free throw line. The better to line up his right hand with the front of the rim, he said.

Then came Macy's signature move: wiping his hands dry on his socks. There was an ulterior motive. "Bring my focus down," he said. "So I wasn't looking at the crowd."

When handed the ball by the referee, Macy wanted to be able to read the writing. If he couldn't, he'd spin the ball around until he could.

Dribble three times. Take a deep breath. Shoot.

Coincidentally, Master, who made 84.9 percent of his free throws as a college player, also bounced the ball three times in his routine. He noted how he believed it would help his concentration if he tried to be more accurate than simply shooting the ball through the rim.

"I wanted to swish it," he said. "Even as a little boy, I'd practice."

Master put imaginary pressure on each practice free throw. "Not just flip it up," he said, "but to make believe you're really in a pressure situation with 23,000 watching."

Macy made 89.2 percent of his free throws in UK's national championship season of 1977-78. Yet he noted how he shot extra free throws the day before Kentucky played Michigan State in the Mideast Region championship game.

"To try to get in a little better rhythm," he said.

Macy liked that he missed a free throw early in the game against Michigan State. "It helped relax me," he said. He made 10 of 11, a big part of UK's 16-of-18 shooting in a three-point victory over the Spartans.

Although free-throw accuracy is believed to be critically important, the numbers can be tortured to say otherwise. For example:

■ No. 1 Arizona's 67.2-percent accuracy ranked 231st among Division I teams, according to the NCAA's statistical update going into this week.

■ Of the last 11 national championship teams, three made fewer than 70 percent of their free throws. The three are Syracuse (69.4) in 2003, Connecticut (62.3) in 2004 and Florida (69.0) in 2007.

■ The three teams that have beaten Kentucky this season are shooting a combined 65.5 percent from the line. In the victories over UK, Michigan State and Baylor and North Carolina collectively made 52 of 84 free throws (61.9 percent).

Before he became synonymous with one-and-done players, Kentucky Coach John Calipari was known for his teams winning despite poor free-throw shooting. Four of his teams since 2003 have made less than 66 percent of their free throws. The Final Four Memphis team of 2007-08 made only 61.4 percent of its free throws.

Coincidentally or not, UK's national championship team of 2011-12 made 72.3 percent of its free throws. That's the best of any Calipari team since at least 2003, and one of only two to shoot free throws with 70-percent or better accuracy.

"He gets all these great players, and maybe they don't concentrate on the little things that make you a better free throw shooter," Master said. "... They can jump and run and do all these great unbelievable plays. Maybe they don't concentrate on shooting as much. They rely on other skills."


Next game

Mississippi St. at No. 15 Kentucky

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 8

TV: SEC Network

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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