LAWRENCE — Upon learning of the bizarre scene Wednesday at McCarthy Hall in which an uninvited visitor offered to give “free-throw advice” to a resident, likely Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, Bill Self pondered the situation.
“If it’s Rick Barry, I’m all for it,” Self joked Thursday. “Or Mark Price.”
Self entered the third day of questioning and second-guessing over his decision to leave Azubuike in down the stretch of Tuesday night’s game at Oklahoma, an 85-80 defeat which saw the 7-foot center miss six consecutive free-throw attempts as the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks (16-4, 6-2 Big 12) came away empty-handed on all but one of their final nine possessions.
Price and Barry, of course, were legendary for their prowess from the charity stripe, ranking second (90.4 percent) and fourth (90 percent) all-time in NBA free-throw shooting percentage, respectively.
“I was told that the security over there called,” Self said of the unsolicited visit to McCarthy Hall, which houses the KU men’s basketball players. “They just thought it was strange that an older gentleman would be kind of stalking and hanging around in the dormitory area. I don’t think anything definitely was ill-intended, but probably just a little unusual.
“Apparently he told everybody that he was coming to see me next. So as long as it’s not Freddy Krueger, I’m OK with it.”
After addressing the peculiar incident, Self turned to a big-picture look at Azubuike, who finished 1 for 8 on his free-throw attempts against the Sooners and is now shooting 38.1 percent from the line this season. Self attributed Azubuike’s poor free-throw shooting to both mechanics and mentality.
Release point and follow-through, he said, are the most important factors in determining a great shooter, though some have been able to overcome an unconventional form over the years.
“Mechanically everyone’s been taught that when you throw a dart you keep your elbow under your hand,” Self said. “Everybody’s been taught that, and Doke isn’t like that when he shoots.”
Mechanics are only part of the equation though. Mindset becomes key when a player steps to the line in a pressure situation, and that is often a bigger part of the formula than form.
“You can shoot a thousand free throws a day in practice, it’s not the same as being fouled intentionally with under three left on the road in a pretty big game. So pressures are always different,” Self said. “Whatever you do you need to be able to withstand pressure. So I think the mental aspect of it is far more important than the actual physical.”
For now, KU won’t mess with Azubuike’s form, which means no immediate switch to an underhanded approach like the one Barry made famous en route to becoming a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.
“If you’re going to make drastic switches like that I think it needs to be done over a course of time,” Self said. “You can’t practice them underhanded and in the games (say), ‘Well, I’m not quite comfortable, so I’ll shoot them back the way I always shot them.’ It’s a commitment to make a serious change like that, and I don’t see that occurring at this juncture of the season.”
The surest sign of a poor shooter, Self said, is missing left or right, and Azubuike doesn’t have that problem on his free-throw attempts. Instead he’s catching the back of the rim on almost every shot, a situation the KU coach believes is correctable and therefore makes the sophomore’s more traditional form salvageable.
Pride may also prevent Azubuike from buying in to such a dramatic switch to a so-called “granny-style” approach, such as the form deployed by Barry. That point was reinforced to Self in a recent conversation with SMU coach Tim Jankovich.
“I asked Tim about it and he said, ‘You know, I think underhanded may be good. I could say if I had a guy that was struggling I may recommend that to him,’ ” Self recalled. “I said, ‘Would you do it?’ He said, ‘Bill if I was shooting one percent from the line there’s no way in hell I would do it. But maybe somebody else would want to.’
“So I don’t see that happening. … In order for (Azubuike) to advance and have a chance to have a career he’s got to be able to shoot the ball. Shooting it underhanded, I don’t know how that helps prolong his playing career.”
As for the odd individual offering “free-throw advice,” sophomore guard Malik Newman didn’t see the incident but had the details relayed to him by teammate Lagerald Vick, who did witness it.
“I think it’s crazy for a guy to take time out of his day to come down here and yell at some young men about free throws and things like that,” Newman said. “It just speaks about the fan base, how much they love us and how much they care, but I’m pretty sure Doke will be good moving forward.”