Last season, with a 3-point lead and 11.3 seconds on the clock, junior basketball forward Davante Drinkard stepped to the line with a chance to close out the Clemson University Tigers during the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii Dec. 23.
Drinkard missed the free throw, and Clemson guard Rod Hall made a lay-up and was fouled with 3.8 seconds left. After Hall made his free throw and forced overtime, the Salukis lost 83-75.
The crucial missed free throw highlighted a season where the 2011-12 SIU men’s basketball team was the worst free throw shooting team in the conference, shooting a dismal .640 percent from the line. The team is also losing its top three free throw shooters from last year – Mamadou Seck (.802), Harry Whitt (.714) and Treg Setty (.703)
Assistant coach Anthony Beane Sr. said the team has not spent a lot of time practicing free throws since he joined the staff, but the Saluki post players have already shown improvement in their shooting.
“The big men have already made improvements on their technique, as we build from the ground up,” Beane said.
Beane said that coach Barry Hinson preaches lining up the seems of the ball, getting proper arch on the shot and following through the release to build good habits.
Drinkard and the other Saluki post players have been shooting with over-sized basketballs that force the players to focus on getting the proper rotation during the free throws needed to fit the over-sized ball in the hoop. Beane said the balls help with the players’ focus.
“It’s something (Hinson’s) always done. It helps them get a better feel, focus more on the rim and makes the smaller ball seem easier,” Beane said.
Sophomore forward Dantiel Daniels said he has already seen improvements in his free throw shooting since he began the drills.
“I gained a lot of confidence. Coach Hinson really worked with me a lot on changing my form and we spent a lot of time in the gym,” Daniels said. “He was telling me that my elbow tends to go out, instead of straightening it and sometimes I don’t put rotation on the ball.”
Last season, Daniels ranked second on the team in free throw attempts and made free throws. But he shot the third worst percentage (.535) on the team, ahead of sophomore guard Josh Swan (.511) and Drinkard (.500).
Daniels said Hinson showed him film from last year on how confidence in his shot was revealed through his body language. When he was struggling to make free throws, he appeared less willing to go back to the free throw line. Daniels said since working with Hinson, he is confident that he can continue to play physical, draw fouls and knock down his free throws.
“I play hard-nosed and very physical. I’m always the one initiating the contact, so making free throws is very important,” Daniels said. “Especially when they need to force feed me (the ball in the post). I’ve got to produce; I’m ready.”
Daniels did not have an exact percent in mind when asked how much improvement he expected from the free throw line this year, but said he expects to see his percentage raise every year and hopes to end his career around 75 percent.
Drinkard said free throws are more about having a positive mental outlook than physical technique. He said free throws are about 60 percent mental and 40 percent technique.
“When you’re feeling good and you’re in the mood and happy, you’re ready to go the to line,” Drinkard said. “But when you’re having a bad game or struggling from the field, you don’t look forward to going to the line.”
As the Saluki big men become more confident in their free throws, the guards also plan on continuing to attack the basket and draw fouls. Junior guard Diamond Taylor said it is important for the guards to continue to remain aggressive, even when struggling from the line.
“It’s really important because free throws give scorers a chance to get easy buckets and also allows them to get into a rhythm,” Taylor said.
Aside from free throw shooting, Drinkard said the team focuses a lot on team building and bonding during practice. Drinkard said Hinson also stresses hard work throughout the summer.