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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Different strokes for different folks: Cal's stance on shooting

Different strokes for different folks: Cal's stance on shooting
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, November 11, 2007

As Chris Douglas-Roberts learned to play basketball in the streets of Detroit -- "The numbered streets," he says -- the fundamental techniques of long-range shooting took a backseat to the pragmatic essence of the asphalt.

Get the ball in the basket, or go home.

"I never had a coach that showed me the perfect form or anything," Douglas-Roberts said. "I just shot it."

As a result, Douglas-Roberts developed a shooting style that was uniquely his own, setting his feet wide apart, releasing the ball from almost right between his eyes, kicking his elbows out sideways (typically a huge no-no) and using both hands to influence the shot's direction.

Those quirks, however, fit right in at the University of Memphis, where a variety of unconventional shooters have helped the Tigers reach No. 3 in the national polls.

From Doneal Mack to Andre Allen to Derrick Rose, the Tigers will try to make 3-pointers this season with players whose motion is more homegrown than textbook. And though the Tigers practice shooting every day, coach John Calipari is careful not to inject himself too much into how his players try to get the ball in the bucket.

"Jamal Wilkes was different than Michael Jordan, who was different than Larry Bird," Calipari said. "But their head is really still and they follow through at the rim. That's what I tell them. And then, if they're to change their shot, it's in the summer. Not now."

Though players can vary on foot position and how they grip the ball before shooting, coaching texts stress that the most important elements are maintaining good balance, releasing the ball just before the highest point in the jump and following through toward the rim.

Beyond that, changing a players' mechanics can be dicey, since their shooting motions have often become habit by the time they get to college.

"If it's not broken, don't try to fix it," said former Virginia coach Pete Gillen, now an analyst for CSTV. "If he was a poor shooter, we'd try to work on his mechanics and his form and his release, but it's tough to change a shot. When you get into college, you've shot a couple million shots from junior high to high school to summer to spring ball, and then they miss two or three in a row they go back to their old habits. If somebody's a good shooter, even if their mechanics aren't good, we left them alone."

Of Memphis' entire roster, Calipari said, only sophomore guard Willie Kemp and Rose have what would be considered classic mechanics. Kemp, who worked tirelessly on his shooting over the summer, is 6-of-11 on the season from 3-point range.

Though Rose has good form, he has not always been considered a good or even average shooter. The only obvious quirk in his shot is his release. When Rose goes into his shooting motion, he cradles the bottom of the ball deep in his right hand, then barely touches the side with his left hand. Because of his hand positioning, Rose will often release the ball flat, more like a slingshot, and miss off the front of the rim.

But his brother, Reggie Rose, who coached Derrick in AAU basketball, said the biggest flaw is the inconsistency of his footwork.

"As time goes on, I think he'll become a good shooter," Reggie Rose said. "But like I told him, sometimes it ain't even about you making a shot, it's about just taking a shot. As long as you take it, the defender will know you will take it."

Derrick Rose, who has made 3-of- 9 from 3-point range this year, spent nearly every night before the start of practice shooting in the Finch Center, often alone on the "Gun" machine, which feeds balls automatically to the shooter.

"It's just confidence," Rose said. "Before I came here, I was all right. But shooting every day, I'm hitting the majority of my open shots, and I can tell I'm getting better."

Though most shooters see their confidence come and go at various points, it's never an issue with senior Andre Allen. Though Allen is just a 31.8 percent 3-point shooter for his career, he is never afraid to take and make big shots. To wit, he shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in four NCAA Tournament games as a sophomore and made 3 of 8 in last year's Elite Eight run.

Looking for more consistency, Allen changed some of his mechanics this summer and said he's shooting the 3-pointer better than ever, though he's only 1-for-4 in games so far.

"I used to shoot the ball from in front of my face to keep my elbow straight," Allen said. "Now I don't think about it, I just come up with it and shoot. I always was a great point guard but wasn't such a great shooter. I'm not a great shooter now. I'm not even a good shooter, I just say I'm pretty consistent.

"I just have to make sure I get my legs into it. That's all that matters is your legs. A lot of people shoot standstill shots, and most of their shots come up short. I just make sure I get my legs to it."

Perhaps the most recognizable technique belongs to Mack, a sophomore lefty who uses practically his entire 41-inch vertical leap every time he shoots and releases the ball high over his head, meaning he can get off a shot no matter who is guarding him.

Another quirk for Mack is that he brings his right hand almost over the top of the ball before shooting it. But because his elbows don't move much, hit shot is usually on target. Last season, Mack made 50 percent from 3-point range after Jan. 1.

Unlike some of his teammates, Mack's motion was refined over the years by coaches who stressed the fundamentals. Mack didn't settle into his current form until the 11th grade, he said, when a speed and strength coach instructed him to use his leaping ability.

"I used to shoot without legs," he said. "It was an arm shot, but to get to the next level and to get your shot off at the next level, he told me, 'You have a lot of bounce. You have to jump.' So I would always shoot at the top of my point."

Though Mack's mechanics are certainly unconventional, they seem to work as well as anybody's on the Memphis roster. And at the end of the day, no matter how the ball gets there, all that matters is how many hit the bottom of the net.

Next for No. 3 Tigers

Opponent: Christian Brothers (exhibition)

When, where: Monday, 7 p.m., at FedExForum

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.

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