A 14-time sectional champion high school coach that is nationally known for his free-throw methods had a chance to watch Purdue play Illinois on New Year’s Eve and noticed a few minor adjustments the Boiler players could make to improve at the free throw line.
Virgil Sweet, a former Valparaiso High school coaching legend, became nationally renowned for his 20-step method to shooting a free throw. The method was known as “The Valpo Free Throw Method.”
After seeing Purdue play, Sweet said one thing could cure the Boiler free throw woes: Arc.
“The highest point of the arc should be two-thirds of the way to the basket,” Sweet said. “Their highest point of the arc was about four-fifths of the way.”
Sweet said taller players tend to have more trouble getting enough arc on the ball. He said the goal is to have the ball go into the basket at a 45-degree angle downward and if the arc of the ball is too close to the basket, there is not a 45-degree angle going into the basket, giving the ball a tendency to hit the back of the rim.
One Purdue player who has consistently excelled from the charity stripe is Robbie Hummel, who shoots by Sweet’s 20-step method. Before his ACL injury his junior year, Hummel shot 90 percent from the free-throw line, and at one time made 36 free throws in a row, breaking a record held for three decades.
Players started the Valpo method in fifth grade so by the time they were seniors in high school, they had been using it for seven years.
The former coach was proud to note that the last 15 years he coached at Valparaiso, every team averaged over 70 percent.
Through 16 games this season, Purdue has shot 62 percent from the free-throw line, a stat that ranks last in the Big Ten and 310 out of 338 Division 1 schools.
Terry Dischinger, a former Purdue two-time All-American, said he was surprised the Boilers rank last in overall free-throw percentage in the Big Ten given the amount of talent the team has.
Dischinger holds current Purdue records for most free throws attempted in a season (350) and most free throws made in a game (21), season (292) and career (871). The Terre Haute native finished his Boilermaker career an 81 percent free-throw shooter.
Purdue’s first great scorer, as most tabbed him, said when he practiced he would never shoot more than two free throws in a row and that he would do a sprint before he shot each one so it would feel like a game situation.
“That seemed to work well for me,” Dischinger said. “Plus, I have to have a routine and most people do. You have to do it the same way. You have to prepare yourself and have a cadence. That is how free-throw shooting goes.”
Four Boilermakers’ free throw percentages are lower than they were last year. Also, six players are shooting at or below 55 percent on the season.
Terone Johnson is shooting 27 percent from the line while Jacob Lawson and Travis Carroll are shooting 34 and 33 percent, respectively.
Three-time Purdue basketball letterwinner and current Indiana Pacers director of player development Billy Keller said he stresses technique when it comes down to free throw shooting.
Keller’s assessment of Purdue’s struggles was that the team has a few shooters he labeled “flingers.”
“(They) kind of sling the ball to the basket,” Keller said. “Guys who sling the ball to the basket really do not shoot at all.”
Keller also said free-throw shooting was about the technique of when to release the ball.
“The ball has to come out of your hands at the right moment,” Keller said. “Sometimes the ball will come off the fingers too soon. Sometimes arm angle can be bad. If you shoot the ball flat you don’t shoot at all of the basket. Looking at technique is the simplest way to get the ball to the basket with the most success.”
Keller, along with the help of Rick Mount, led Purdue to the 1969 NCAA Championship game. In 75 games as a Boiler, Keller
averaged 14 points per game. “Mr. Hustle”, as he was known, won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award given to the best college player under 6 feet tall.
Keller said in order for players and teams to become better free-throw shooters, they have to believe in the person trying to help correct their problems.
“If you don’t believe the person’s teachings will help you then you won’t be receptive to the changes,” Keller said. “You are at the mercy of the players being receptive to your teaching. Until they trust you or believe that, what you’re teaching won’t help them.”