Morris: Williams’ streak ends, but he could be USC’s top free-throw shooter ever

January 11, 2014 

USC's Brenton Williams lines up and makes his 50th free throw in a row as the Gamecocks fell to LSU on Saturday. Williams' streak ended moments later when he missed his next shot.


WHEN IT COMES to free-throw shooting, it is all about repetition. Or at least it is according to John Roche and Brenton Williams, who own the two longest successful free-throw shooting streaks in South Carolina history.

Roche, whose jersey No. 11 hangs in the Colonial Life Arena rafters when Williams attempts free throws, made 41 consecutive free throws during the 1970-71 season. Williams’ school-record, two-season streak of 50 in a row came to an end Saturday against LSU.

“Study Maria Sharapova getting prepared to serve,” Roche said this past week via email from Denver where he is an attorney and avid tennis player. “Same routine every time in hundreds of matches over many years. A testament to focus and discipline and determination.”

Williams agrees.

“It’s definitely about repetition,” he says, “doing the same thing every time you get to the line. You don’t want to change anything at the last minute. Stick to what you know.”

What Williams knows is that he made his first 33 attempts this season, mostly because he approaches the free-throw line in the exact manner for every attempt.

Through high school in Kissimmee, Fla., and early in his one-year stay at Santa Fe (Fla.) College, Williams stood with both big toes square against the free-throw line. At Santa Fe, he changed his stance.

Now Williams finds the nail hole on every court that shows where the center of the free-throw line rests and places his right big toe there. Then he plants his left big toe slightly behind the line, about parallel with the arch on his right foot.

Some free-throw shooters find a spot in the free-throw lane to stare once they are handed the ball and before they look at the basket. Williams looks directly at the front rim and the nets.

Williams then takes the same three dribbles before every attempt, slightly bends his knees and places three fingers on his right (or lead) hand within a seam of the ball. His release is slightly unorthodox in that he does not raise the ball above his head like most shooters. Rather, he releases it almost at chest level with somewhat of a pushing motion.

Then, as he waits for the ball to swish through the nets, Williams keeps his feet planted and continues a follow-through motion with a slight cracking of the right wrist. He credits his success — he is an 87 percent career free-throw shooter — to replicating the routine and motion every attempt.

Roche says it was too long ago to recall his routine on free-throw attempts from the 1969 through 1971 seasons. Yet anyone who saw him play remembers that Roche made the sign of the cross before every attempt.

“I went to Catholic elementary and high schools and this was not uncommon,” Roche says. “It is rather ironic because I grew up to be a non-believer.”

What Roche always believed, even through his eight years in the ABA and NBA, was that successful free-throw shooting was linked to successful basketball.

“Getting to the free-throw line was often the difference between winning and losing — and vital for protecting leads,” Roche says.

Because of his ability to drive to the basket and shoot jump shots, Roche got to the free-throw line with regularity during his USC career. His 215 free throws made in 1971, 184 in 1969 and 179 in 1970 rank second, fifth and seventh, respectively, in USC history. His .821 career percentage ranks fourth all-time.

As the result of his streak this season, Williams has positioned himself to become USC’s best free-throw shooter. He has made 86.6 percent of his career attempts, which would surpass the 85 percent shooting of guard Brent Price during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

When each USC player is required to shoot 100 free throws following every practice session, Williams’ attempts sometimes can become a show. He can routinely sink 80 to 85 attempts, and occasionally nails 90 or more. Never has he made 100.

“I take a lot of pride in free-throw shooting,” Williams says. “Nothing upsets me more than missing a free throw.”

For USC fans, and even coach Frank Martin, Williams’ free-throw shooting exploits have become a game within each game.

“I’ve kind of stayed out of Brenton’s hair, and that’s probably why he’s making them,” Martin says with a laugh. “This is a first for me. I’m enjoying every free throw made, just like the rest of us.”

Even though it gets rather repetitious.


>USC guard Brenton Williams has made a program-record 47 consecutive free throws over two seasons entering Saturday’s game against LSU. A game-by-game look at the streak:


Texas A&M4-4
Mississippi St.12-12
Mississippi St.0-0
TotalLast 17


Florida Int.6-6
Oklahoma St.0-0
USC Upstate0-0
Saint Mary’s2-2
Boise State4-4
S.C. State5-5

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