Health & Medicine

Master a free throw during March Madness

Kyle Macy, who played three seasons at Kentucky, 1977-80, set UK's single-season free-throw percentage record of 0.912 percent in his last year.
Kyle Macy, who played three seasons at Kentucky, 1977-80, set UK's single-season free-throw percentage record of 0.912 percent in his last year.

Anyone who has ever played basketball, from the smallest shooter to the guys at the highest level of the NBA, has a theory about what goes into creating the musical "swisssh" of a well-executed free throw.

A dunk might require God-given abilities; a layup, technical skills that not everyone can grasp; but the free throw?

"You can definitely improve your free throw if you are ready to shoot the right way," said Kyle Macy, the former University of Kentucky Wildcat who holds the school's single-season record for highest free-throw percentage at .912.

This season, UK guard Doron Lamb has the team's highest free-throw percentage, .847.

If you learn some basic skills and practice, practice, practice, it's a shot most people can improve on. (Except, of course, former NBA great-turned- commentator Shaquille O'Neal, who never seemed to tame the free throw consistently. Thus the term hack-a-Shaq, but we digress.)

It is March, and that means madness in Kentucky. It also means it's time for everyone with a basket nailed to a barn to work on the game we hold sacred.

"It's part of being a Kentuckian. It's in our blood," said Cody Swords, a Paris native and former Transylvania University basketball player who now helps kids hone their basketball skills — and other things — as sports and special-needs coordinator for the YMCA of Central Kentucky.

What makes a great free throw shooter?

Gary Shaffer has earned the name Dr. Free Throw as a teacher/coach at Lexington's Kentucky Basketball Academy. He said he used to be "a really terrible free-throw shooter."

Shaffer, who now can make about 95 free throws out of 100 on a good day, said he has studied elite shooters at all levels. Focus and practice are the keys, he said.

"Repetition is the mother's milk of being better at any sport," he said.

Macy, part of UK's national championship team in 1978, has probably one of the best-known free throw rituals in the commonwealth. His father taught him the fundamentals of the game and encouraged concentration at the free throw line, he said. Macy's free-throw routine — touching his sock before hoisting the ball — filled that bill and helped dry off his hands.

Maintaining proper alignment is one of the keys to improving your free throw, said Macy, right. He also said people underestimate the need to use the power of their legs when shooting and completing the proper follow-through.

Not to mention practice.

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