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How to prepare for the most important shot in 🏀

In an earlier article I wrote you about the most important type of shot that decided on the last NBA Finals. And it was not a threepointer, neither a lay-up. But a free throw. A FREE throw.
Did you know that last season in the Euroleague three teams that were in the Top 5 of provoking the most free throws*, made it to the Final 4?

Provoking those free throws is one thing. Making them is another. Every coach can recall easily a game which his team lost because they did not make the FREE throws. From a certain level on, it’s not only about the shooting form, but about the mental game. How to cope with the pressure of having the game on the line.

My geniune question to all of you:
How do you prepare you players in team practices for these crucial shots?
How do you mimic a similar pressure on your pratice?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen practices of several Euroleague, EuroCup and NBA teams. And I’ve seen many different things.

I’ve seen a Euroleague team where – on a double whistle of the coach – all players would sprint into a line behind the FT line. Who-ever hits first 2FT’s in a row on every basket, gets a water break. The last players to finish up, had a very short break. And an extra sprint to make. They would repeat it around 5 times a practice. Every single day. You think it gets boring? All players were completely into it! They were competing! The veterans were having fun like kids on a playground!

But I’ve also seen for example a Euroleague team never ever take one single FT in their team practices. Never.

My best story that I want to share with you? 
It comes from Phil Martelli (former NCAA Coach of the Year) at Saint Joseph’s. 

The night before every game, he ended the practice with the same drill. He puts a score of 70-70 on the scoreboard. Everybody has to shoot free throws and according to his rules of the drill, the team has “to win the game”.

This drill can be over in 5 mins, but when the team loses the game, they start all over again. During my presence at SJU, it took the team 1h15 to complete the goal. It seems funny at first, but after a while, we had to change gym (because the women’s team had a practice), managers and even assistent coaches started to leave. During this 1h15, Coach Martelli didn’t show a single emotion (as the picture reveals 😅), while the players started to get annoyed and frustrated, and started to blame each other for not making their free throw. This is a moment you learn a lot about the team dynamics: who are the leaders, which players tends to give up soon, which bench players are important for your team chemistry, who steps up to make the clutch free throw …

Oh yes, after the 1h45 practice and 1h15 free throw drill, a video session on the next opponent lasted for 45 mins. By Phil Martelli himself, since the assistent coaches already left home…

Let me know how you handle it aty your team practices!
Talk to you soon!

* To be correct it’s the FTA/FGA (the number of free throws you provoke for every field goal attempt). CSKA, Real and Fenerbahce  all ended up in the Top 5 in the Euroleague regular season for this stat.

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Recently I did a podcast with Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion.