CHARLESTON — Rick Barry watched an NBA game recently in which Houston Rockets forward Dwight Howard missed more free throws than the nine Barry misfired on while shooting underhand during the entire 1978-79 season.
Barry was appalled.
“That’s the only part of the game where you can be selfish and help the team,” Barry says. “That’s the only part of the game where nobody is trying to prevent you from doing what you’re doing. That’s the only part of the game where every single time it’s exactly the same. Same size ball, same size basket, same distance to the basket.
“How in the world do you live with yourself if you can’t make four out of every five and be an 80 percent shooter? I don’t understand it.”
That is why, like his dad did for him, Barry taught his son, Canyon, to shoot underhand from the free-throw line. It is a simple technique, one the elder Barry says is much more natural than shooting overhand.
“It’s a very motionless type of thing. You try to eliminate any of the motion,” Barry says. “When you think about it, shooting a regular shot, who walks around with their arms up in the air?”
Canyon Barry has made 37 of 52 attempts (71.2 percent) underhand this season for College of Charleston. He says his percentage will continue to improve and eventually will meet the 80 percent accuracy necessary to be an outstanding free-throw shooter.
For Canyon, it is a matter of repetition.
For every free-throw attempt, Canyon squares his feet to the basket and centers his body to the front of the rim. He does not bounce the ball once he receives it from the referee. He then places his hands in the same spot on top of the ball, always with his hands covering the panel on the ball with a “Wilson” or “Nike” logo.
He holds the ball about waist level in front of him, then shifts his wrists downward slightly in what he calls his “trigger” mechanism. That is a slight cock of the wrists to place them in a more natural position to release the ball.
He bends his knees, then he “brings my arms up together to chest level, and roll my hands in,” Canyon says. “The key is that everyone thinks it’s a big wrist flick. It’s not. No wrist in the shot. Just relax it and then straight up with the shot and just roll the ball out. The roll of the hands together creates the backspin, not the big wrist flick.”
The biggest advantage to shooting underhand, according to both Barrys, is the way the ball either swishes through the net or settles on the rim. Instead of shooting to the back of the rim, as most overhand shooters do, underhand tossers aim to barely clear the front rim.
The trajectory of an overhand shot is on a greater downward plane when it approaches the basket, thus is more likely to bounce off the rim if it is offline. An underhand shot approaches the basket on more of a flat plane and usually has a softer landing if it hits the rim. Thus, the ball is more likely to fall into the basket.
“When you shoot underhand, you sometimes get into a feel and it’s one after another after another,” Canyon Barry says. “Repetition. Muscle memory.”