Tigers take aim at better shooting from line
By Dan Wolken
October 28, 2006
John Calipari has said it so many times this month, it should be part of the local lexicon: His University of Memphis basketball team can't possibly be as good as last season after losing its top three scorers. But here's something Calipari hasn't said. Not only were Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams and Darius Washington his top three scorers, they were also Memphis' top free-throw shooters.
Though free-throw shooting hasn't historically been a calling card for Calipari's teams at both Memphis and Massachusetts, it's even more of a question mark heading into this season, which begins Thursday with an exhibition against LeMoyne-Owen. Of Memphis' seven veterans, only sophomores Chris Douglas-Roberts (74.5 percent), Robert Dozier (75 percent) and Kareem Cooper (84 percent) shot well from the free-throw line last year.
The rest spent a lot of the summer 15 feet from the basket.
"I had to," said junior point guard Andre Allen, who made just 24-of-53 attempts last year. "I was in the mind frame that it didn't matter because, in the thick of it, I knew that nine times out of 10 that Darius would be in the game. Now I know I have a chance of being out there, so now I have to knock them down."
Collectively, Carney, Washington and Williams accounted for 47.5 of the team's free-throw attempts and made 76.2 percent between the three of them. The rest of the team made 61 percent.
"Last year when I got to the line, I wasn't focused at all. I was just shooting," said sophomore Antonio Anderson, who is one of the team's best perimeter shooters but made just 63.3 percent of his free throws. "After awhile, Coach told me to start thinking about it, pick a spot on the right and shoot at that spot, I started making it.
"Now I'm a better free-throw shooter. I've been focusing it and working on it all summer and all season so far. It's going to be an improvement."
Calipari said he usually doesn't fret about free throws because his teams, over his 14 years as a head coach, have been consistently at the 68 or 69 percent mark over the course of a season but clutch when the game is on the line.
"My teams historically have shot the ball really, really well in the last four minutes," Calipari said. "Before that, it's like, 'What are you doing?'"
Though Calipari hasn't devoted a significant amount of practice time to free throws, he has gotten the point across.
In an early practice, he put freshman center Pierre Niles on the line and made him shoot free throw after free throw. The 6-8, 285-pound Niles kept making them, prompting Calipari to exclaim, "See what I want you to do? Get fouled!"
Niles -- sidelined after he had his right knee scoped on Oct. 16 -- could be a key to the playing rotation when he gets to full strength because of his foul shooting.
Junior Joey Dorsey, who figures to start at center, made 39-of-91 free throws (42.9 percent) last year, which was actually an improvement over his 39.3 proficiency rate as a freshman.
Dorsey, however, doesn't want to give up those minutes easily and said he's improved, thanks to a couple of tips from veteran NBA coach Larry Brown.
"He changed my shot around, told me to get the ball up a little higher and get a better arc on it," Dorsey said. "My hand was over the top of the ball, and I didn't have space to get the arc under it. Every day before practice, I shoot 100 free throws, and right now I think I'm probably 70 percent."
That would be a huge bonus for a team that needs every edge it can find to be the national contender it was last year.
"If Joey shoots 55 percent or 60 percent, I'll do two backflips," Calipari said. "With a bad hip."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365