Lost Art Of The Jump Shot

ATLANTA - When Arkansas and Tennessee take their first shots at the Southeastern Conference Tournament tonight, hot hands could rescue one of these head coaches, both of whom are in hot water.

Fourth-year Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson's status is quite a bit more tepid as his Volunteers have cooled to 13-16 (6-10 in the SEC). Third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath is getting lukewarm reviews from Razorbacks fans after this 18-11 (6-10) season that all but assures the Hogs still will not play in the NCAA Tournament in Heath's tenure.

Only way for that to happen is for Arkansas to turn that around is to win four games in four days here to net the SEC tourney.

This far-out Georgia Dome setting isn't exactly a sharpshooter's paradise. Legendary former coaches like John Wooden (UCLA), Denny Crum (Louisville) and Nolan Richardson (Arkansas), as well as current coaches like Eddie Sutton (Oklahoma State) and just about everyone in the SEC have long lamented domed settings in which the stands are far away from the baskets and seating is much higher up, making shooting judgment difficult.

"I've talked to a lot of coaches about this, and a lot of them like a setting like Nashville, the Gaylord Center or whatever," Peterson said.

"I know that shooting (in a dome), sometimes the depth perception is a little bit different. That's why (during Wednesday's practice), really for most of those 60 minutes (and he tried to get more), I wanted to get as many shots as we could so the guys could get used to the lighting, the depth perception and all that stuff."

This will be Tennessee freshman Chris Lofton's first dome game and he shook his head at the layout.

"Because of the crowd behind the goals," he said. "That's probably the biggest difference."

During Wednesday's workout, Arkansas spent about a dozen minutes shooting jumpers and posting up, and several more on free throws. The Hogs know full well Tennessee, like most other SEC teams of late, will mostly throw zone at them.

Still, the Hogs are downplaying the dome.

"We haven't played in a dome yet," Heath said. "But it's more important for us to find some seams, find some gaps, penetrate it. And then from there, open shots, you take 'em with confidence.

"You know, I don't want to make it more than it is. The basket's still 10 (feet high). The environment's a little bit more wide-open.

"But we're going to take those shots and I have a lot of confidence my guys are going to make those shots."

Said Arkansas sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer: "You've just got to make adjustments and shoot with confidence. We've got good shooters on this team, and as long as they shoot with confidence, we'll knock down shots."

Teammate Michael   Jones, a 3-point specialist, nodded emphatically.

"Guys like myself can knock down open shots. As long as we stay focused and continue to work on our jump shots like we have been, we're going to knock down those shots. We have a good look, Coach expects us to take those and knock them down.

"As far as the dome, I don't think it's a real big problem. Our mind is focused on one thing only - to win this ballgame."

Arkansas and Tennessee come into this tied in field-goal percentage (.459), which places them seventh in the SEC. The Hogs (.380, fourth in SEC) and Vols (.377, fifth) also are nose-to-nose in 3-point percentage.

Tennessee doesn't have a player in the SEC's top 10 field-goal shooters. But Lofton, who lit up the Hogs from all over with 30 points in Arkansas' 70-68 home win on Feb. 26, ranks second in SEC 3-point shooting at .471 percent.

Conversely, Arkansas has no one in the SEC's top 10 3-point shooters, but Brewer ranks fifth in field-goal percentage at .476.

So today's edition of survivor could well come down to jump shots, an increasingly lost art.

Especially here.

"It's a little bit different, but we all know what we've got to play with and it's whoever does the best job," Peterson said.

Ask almost any coach, especially around the SEC, and they'll tell you pure jump shooters are a dying breed, much too few and far between.

Players are quick to agree.

"I would say that because you've got all these players with all this ability and they want to just take it 1-on-1 all the time," said Arkansas junior Jonathon  Modica, whose .441 3-point percentage would rank him second in the SEC and whose field-goal percentage of .523 would have him in third place had he taken enough shots.

"But I love getting the screen and shooting. When you try to make your way through traffic and everything, that can make problems for you like turnovers.

"That 3 gets you going, so I love getting screens and love getting open shots."

Alabama's Earnest Shelton is one of the SEC's purest shooters, ranking sixth in 3-point percentage (.391) and seventh in field-goal percentage (.465).

Asked to name some of the SEC's other hot-shots, Shelton spit out a couple, then scanned his mind to no avail.

"Anthony Roberson (Florida) can light it up from outside," Shelton said. "Uh, Scooter McFadgon (Tennessee) can knock it down from outside. Who else is out there as far as guys that can just fill it up from out there?

"I mean, every team has a guy that, if you leave him alone, can knock it down, but a true shooter ... coaches are looking for a guy who can came off a screen and knock it down with a hand in their face. Those are the shots that are tough and our coaches, our team, expect me to knock down."

Peterson said the toughest shots to sink are the ones you have too long to think about. And he tries to use that to his advantage.

"Boys, I tell you what, one of the hardest shots to shoot is when you're wide-open," Peterson said. "And sometimes those shooters are wide-open, and that's because coaches leave 'em open for a reason.

"I mean, I go into a game, and if I see a kid averages about 6 points a game, I'm gonna see if he can get about 20. Because after he gets 10 or 12, his mindset will tell him, 'I'm pretty good.' No telling what he'll try to do then.

"Shooting is something that I've really changed my thinking on in trying to go out there and find some that shoot the ball. It's hard to find them. Hard to find some of those guys that can stick it from way outside or create their own shot."

Peterson has adapted his recruiting priorities because of that.

"When I first came in the league, I thought athlete," Peterson said. "The more I've been in this league now, I think shooting."

Said Shelton: "It almost is a lost art to find someone who can step up and shoot, knock down shots. Coaches everywhere are looking for players to step up, and I've defined that as my role on this team."

What's going on?

Not enough shooting.

"I think it's all a product of summer basketball," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, whose team rates first in SEC 3-point shooting (.396) and second in field-goal percentage (.488). "And I'm a big believer in that. I think the Olympic team proved to us that we're heading in the wrong direction.

"I think it's a sad thing that years ago when we were little, we all went to basketball camp. And when we went to camp, they taught us how to shoot. Nowadays, nobody goes to camp. What they want to do is play on traveling summer teams and play 81 running clock games between April and August. And over the course of about eight or nine straight years of that - and we saw it on our global team this summer - we're lacking skills.

"That's where we are. It's an interesting thing because that's what kids want. They want to go play: 'It's not as much fun to go to the gym and shoot 300 shots by myself or have somebody rebound for me. It's more fun to go play and put it behind my back and dipsey-do and all that.' And I think over the course of time that's what we end up seeing - very few shooters.

"I just think we're not teaching kids in America. I don't know that kids are taught the game like they were 15 years ago. Everybody wants to make a play that ends up on SportsCenter. That's not basketball.

"This is an issue that needs to be addressed from age 18-down. It's a big problem. I think we're getting farther and farther away from it."

That drives Peterson crazy.

"The mid-range shot, I think, is a lost art," Peterson said. "That 15-foot shot is just a lost art. I remember Larry Brown once telling us during a meeting, 'Buzz, if you ever have a kid that can hit that 15-footer and create it himself, call me and we'll draft him.' There's not that many out there now.

"Everybody wants to dunk or everybody wants to shoot that 3.

"Let me say this, you know what, t here's a lot more things a 15-year-old can do now besides going out to practice. He can get on his TV and play video games. I remember as a kid, there was a paddle, one little line and a knob. That's all you had, and after about five minutes, you got bored with that.

"You'd go out and shoot."

By the time players net Division I scholarships, their forms are generally set.

And as we all know, bad habits are hard to break. Coaches can tweak, but even they don't expect dramatic developments.

It's much easier to sign shooters than create them.

"When we recruit guys, that's something we look for," Gottfried said. "That's a bi-i-i-i-ig indicator for us. I'm not a real big fan of non-shooters. It's hard to play 3-on-5 when you've got two guys that just can't score.

"At our level, and even at the NBA level, we can help guys with their shooting. But none of us are going to take a guy that's just a bad shooter and turn him into a great shooter.

"That's just not happening and we all know that."

Shelton mostly credited his coach back at White Station High in Memphis for his stroke.

"I changed it before college the way it is now, and ever since, I've knocked it down, so coach Gottfried's never bothered me about it since," Shelton said. "We mainly changed from that two-hand slingshot to a one hand.

"When I was younger, I used to be able to shoot it. I could shoot it really well. But my high school coach used to tell me, 'You can't shoot that at the next level. You can't shoot off the dribble.' You know, all that.

"He basically tore it all up. Made me start over from scratch. Made me shoot it with one hand. Made me hold it up there with one hand.

"I went through a period where I couldn't buy a basket, you know, for maybe a month or two."

Did he think his high school coach was crazy?

"Yeah, I wanted to go back to my old shot - go back to what was going down," Shelton said. "But it was mainly in the off-season, and he stayed working with me, and by the time the season started, I was knocking it down. I had gotten comfortable with it."

Heath and company made just one adjustment to Modica's stroke.

"I think the only thing I did to add to my shot - I always had nice looking form, but I shot the ball a little bit straighter," Modica said. "I didn't put enough arch on it like I should have. So I've changed that a little bit. The coaches worked with me on that."

At first, the change wasn't exactly a hit. Matter of fact, like Shelton, Modica struggled at first.

"Yeah, because you're used to shooting the ball just one way the whole time since you were young," Modica said. "When you try to change it, it feels uncomfortable at first. Shoot air balls.

"But after you get enough reps, you get comfortable with it."

Shooting largely comes down to desire, repetition and old-fashioned hard work.

"It doesn't come easy," Shelton said. "You've got to put a lot of hard work in, a lot of hours.

"Your shots not falling, you've got to be the type of person who wants to go in there two or three hours in the gym before and after practice, in the morning.

"It's more of an individual thing. Practice is more work on defense, getting better and playing better as a team. But knocking your shot down, that's what we work on all summer, getting shots up.

"By the time practice starts, coaches expect you to have your shot down."

Said Modica: "You definitely have to work on your own, get yourself right, get your form right. Every day, I shoot like 300 shots. After practice, I always take a shoot-around and stuff like that because I like to try to shoot when my legs are tired.

"Shooting is just like anything else, if you don't practice it, you'll get rusty. You've got to stay sharp -- keep your sword sharpened."

Get the point?

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