CHARLESTON — Rick Barry, the Hall of Fame basketball player, recalled this week when he first trotted out his now-famous underhand free-throw shooting style as a junior in high school in Roselle Park, N.J.
“Hey, Barry, you big sissy shooting like that,” Barry recalls a fan from nearby Scotts Plains yelling from the stands.
“What are you making fun of him for, he doesn’t miss?” Barry says another fan shouted.
Barry continued shooting the unorthodox, “granny style” free throws through high school, into a four-year career at the University of Miami and through 14 pro basketball seasons. He retired as an 89.3 percent shooter from the line, the best all-time percentage at the time, since surpassed.
With every attempt, with every snide remark from teammates, opponents and fans, Barry recalled the words of his father, who taught him the underhand style and the benefits to shooting that way.
“Son, they can’t make fun of you if you’re making them,” Barry says his father told him often.
Now, the 69-year-old Barry is passing along the same free-throw shooting technique and words of wisdom to his youngest son, Canyon, a 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman at College of Charleston.
“Whatever works to make free throws, obviously, is the most important thing,” Canyon says. “But it is nice to kind of carry on the family tradition of shooting underhand free throws. I don’t know anyone else in the country that shoots them underhand.”
Barry likely is the first college player to shoot underhand free throws since Canyon’s brother, Brent, did so during his first three seasons at Oregon State in the early 1990s. Brent was the only one of Canyon’s four brothers to shoot underhand at any point in their college or pro careers.
Canyon began shooting underhand as a junior at Cheyenne Mountain High in Colorado Springs, Colo. He waited until then because his hands were not big enough to shoot that style.
“Everyone, when they think of doing the shot, always put their hands under the ball or on the sides of the ball and kind of roll it up there,” Canyon says. “But, actually, you kind of want your hands on top of the ball. You want your hands to roll together and the ball kind of slips out the bottom. So, you have to have big enough hands to grip over the top of the ball.”
Both Barrys say it takes time and repetition to perfect the underhand style. Rick Barry led either the NBA or ABA in free-throw shooting seven times, including the 1978-79 season when he missed nine of 169 attempts for a .947 percentage. He grew better with age thanks to a late adjustment that led to 92 percent shooting on 1,870 attempts over his final six pro seasons.
Canyon was a 70 percent free-throw shooter in high school, and suffered through what he calls an adjustment period early this season. With different atmospheres from high school and arena-like backgrounds, Canyon missed six of his first seven attempts as a collegian. Since then, he has made 36 of 45 attempts for 80 percent.
Canyon says it takes confidence to both shoot underhand free throws and to be successful shooting underhand free throws. He is a confident sort who finished No. 1 in his high school class of 322 students academically and is the only member of the College of Charleston basketball team in the school’s honors program. He is a 4.0 student majoring in physics.
Canyon was an Eagle Scout growing up and was the first chair euphonium in his high school’s concert band and wind ensemble. He was a two-time state champion tennis player and captured a state badminton championship. He is conspicuous on the College of Charleston campus because there are not many 6-6 males with long blond hair riding a skateboard to and from class.
That confidence is a big reason Barry can stand at the free throw line and subject himself to the jeering of others because he “shoots like a girl,” even though females have not attempted underhand shots for decades.
As a junior in high school, Canyon sank six consecutive free throws in a game against a close rival. He missed on the seventh attempt, the front end of a one-and-one situation, and heard it from the opposing team’s fans.
“You’re adopted! You’re adopted!” they chanted, according to Canyon, who is not adopted. “I thought that was pretty clever. I gave them props for that one. That was well thought out.”
At College of Charleston, Canyon seems to get more attention because of the curiosity surrounding such an unusual shot. In the team’s season-opener at Louisville he missed all four of his free-throw attempts with his father in the stands.
“I really watched the fans,” the elder Barry says. “I saw one guy turned to another and say, ‘What was that? What did he just do?’ ”
More recently, in a game at Northeastern, College of Charleston was leading late in the second half when the home team was forced to foul. Northeastern fans began shouting for their team to “foul number 24!” so they could see Barry attempt underhand free throws.
Word apparently is spreading fast about the return of granny-style free-throw shooting to college basketball, at least with one player.