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Her pre-shot routine is only half the battle. The mental aspect is important, too.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Maddie Price, a Salem High School basketball player, concentrates as she practices free throws Tuesday.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Maddie Price of Salem High School works on her free throws during practice Tuesday.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
The first thing Maddie Price does is find the nail.Then she puts her left foot directly behind it.
Next, she wipes her hands on the bottom of her shoes.
Then she takes four dribbles.
Finally, she puts the tip of the middle finger of her left hand on a black leather seam and looks at the target 12 feet, 11 3⁄ 8 inches away.
What on earth is she doing?
She’s about to score a point for Salem High School’s girls basketball team, that’s what.
The actions just mentioned make up Price’s routine for shooting a free throw, and most of the time during the 2012-13 season the result has been the ball going through the net.
The 5-foot-2 junior guard has been Timesland’s most accurate shooter at the line, only recently dipping below the 90 percent mark.
Heading into Saturday’s Group AA Division 4 quarterfinal against Lord Botetourt, Price has made 53 of 61 free throws for 86.9 percent in a year when only a handful of other Timesland girls have managed to reach 70 percent at the line.
Botetourt coach Chuck Pound has noticed the low numbers across the board and does not have an answer for the struggles.
“I don’t know what the reason is,” Pound said. “Here, I don’t think we’ve ever as a team shot higher than 61 percent.
“I like what [former Virginia Tech coach] Seth Greenberg said: ‘We don’t shoot free throws. For us they’re “foul” shots.’ ”
Maybe Price can help with these helpful hints:
First, she locates a small nail that marks the center of the foul line in most, if not all, gymnasiums that have a wooden floor.
That’s a trick that was taught to Price by her late father, Dennis.
Price places her left foot behind the nail, ensuring that the release point with her left hand will be in a direct line with the rim and the backboard.
“I wipe both my feet twice,” she said. “I don’t know, it’s just habit. I go left-to-right, right-to-left. I’m really weird about it.”
Then she turns the ball so the seams are horizontal and rests a fingertip in the indention made by one of the seams, allowing her to apply the proper backspin on the shot.
“That helps so much,” Price said. “If I can shoot a ball with my hand on the lace, I’m pretty sure I can make it.”
From there, she puts her left hand under the ball and uses her right hand as a guide on the side.
While most good shooters release the guide hand from the ball early, Price keeps her right hand on the ball throughout the shot.
“I kind of use two hands,” Price said. “My hands are really small. I kind of push with both.”
Whatever works. That’s what Salem coach DeWayne Harrell says about correcting his players’ shooting form during the season.
“It sounds good to try to change their shots, but you can’t do that in three months,” Harrell said. “It has to be offseason. A free throw, it seems like it’s an easy shot, but maybe not if you don’t practice it.”
Price’s pre-shot routine is only half the battle. Next comes the mental aspect.
“The first thing I like to do is clear my mind of all distractions that are out there,” she said. “I try not to let the fans and the students affect me and my shot.”
And if a particular noun, verb or adjective from an opposing fan breaks through her defenses?
“If they make some sort of noise or distraction and I make a free throw, I make sure to look up in the stands so they know that I’m going to make mine and you don’t need to do that,” Price said.
“When our fans are yelling at our coach, that’s pretty distracting. People are usually pretty good when I’m at the line.”
While Justin Goode of Lord Botetourt made 170 of 182 free throws this season for a 93.4 percent mark, Price was not far behind.
Harrell makes sure the Salem junior is in position to have the ball in her hands near the end of a close game.
“She’s in the game the last 10 seconds or whatever it is,” Harrell said. “She’s catching the ball or getting an outlet.
“Free throws are big. If you’re losing games, you’re losing because of free throws, not getting rebounds and turnovers. That’s across the whole game. It’s just the last two minutes, everybody sees it.”
Price said she is willing to give advice to anyone who asks.
“I critique everyone’s free throw in my head when I’m watching them shoot,” she said. “Some girls take too long. Some are too fast. They don’t know how to hold on to the ball correctly. They don’t hold their follow-through.
“I think a big problem that a lot of players face is the mental game. Once they see they’re missing shots, I think that really affects them. If I miss a couple shots, I just move on.”
Salem (23-3) hopes to advance to Richmond next week for a third straight Division 4 state semifinals berth. The Spartans have been crushed in their two appearances, 63-34 by Liberty-Bealeton in 2011 and 70-30 by Courtland last year.
First, Salem has to get by a Botetourt team for the third time this season.
“I think we’re playing great basketball,” Price said. “If there’s any year we could possibly win states, I think this is the year. We’ve worked so hard. We’ve fallen short in Richmond, and we just have a ton of motivation this year.”
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