Free throws can be arc of triumph

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The outcome of many basketball games is decided from 15 feet away from the basket.

“Free-throw shooting is one of the most important things in winning a basketball game,” said Valor Christian senior Garrett Baggett, who made 82 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe last season. “If you miss 10 free throws and lose by two points, if you had made five of 10 you win the game.”

Coaches substitute late in games not only to get good defensive or offensive players on the floor, but also to get better free-throw shooters in the lineup.

“It always comes down to free throws,” said Highlands Ranch coach Bob Caton. “Sometimes not just making a free throw but getting a lot of free throws too.”

Valor Christian coach Ronnie DeGray tries to make sure his players have their feet correctly aligned and their shooting methods are correct. After that, it us up to the player.

Coaches have numerous approaches such as free-throw ladders, team competition and other shooting drills with awards and the usual running punishment to put pressure on players to make free throws during practice.

Free-throw shooting provides a chunk of almost every basketball practice.

“We like players to get comfortable,” explained Caton. “Every kid when he shoots a free throw should have a pattern, whatever they like to do. Then you want to have the good form, the proper form. One thing you don’t do, if a kid is making a good percent of his free throws, you leave him alone. If he is not making a good percent of his free throws, then you work with him. Then you want repetition, where everything becomes a habit.”

Baggett made 63 of 76 free-throw attempts and is one of the best returning south metro area boys players in free throw percentage.

“I have a routine I do before every free-throw shot,” said Baggett. “I’ll walk to the top of the key, look at the rim a little bit, catch the ball and get a feel for it, take three dribbles to get in a rhythm, eyes on the rim and shoot it.”

The waving and other methods students use to distract free-throw shooters doesn’t bother Baggett.

“All the waving doesn’t usually bother me because I have my head down when I dribble so at the last second is when I pull up, look at the rim and shoot it,” he said. “So I really don’t see all that when I shoot the ball.

“It depends on the situation if I think about the importance of a free throw. If it’s a close game, I’ll think a little bit more. I just think about it like any other shot, it’s a routine that I’ve always had.”

Baggett got into a free-throw shooting routine early.

“I used to be homeschooled in middle school,” he recalled. “I’d finish my school work by noon and I’d just go out and shoot. I’d shoot about 100 free throws a day. I think that’s where it developed. I could always improve on my free-throw shooting. I’d like to shoot 90 percent this year.”

Other accurate free-throw shooters returning this season include Highlands Ranch’s Evan Motlong, who also hit 83 percent of his attempts (44 of 53). Lutheran’s James Willis (83 of 110) and Cherry Creek’s Griffin Parr (54 of 72) each connected on 75 percent, while Rock Canyon’s Mitch Lombard (56 of 77), Jake Holtzmann (72 of 99) of Chaparral and Cherry Creek’s Will Bower (37 of 51) were 73 percent shooters.

As a team, Cherry Creek made 74 percent of its free throws. Valor and Mountain Vista made 71 percent of their attempts in 2012-13.

Highlands Ranch ranked near the bottom of the Continental League, hitting 61 percent of its free throws.

“Sometimes it’s who gets fouled and if he is a good shooter,” said Caton. “Last year we had a couple guys who didn’t shoot very well. If they had shot better, we would have been in great shape.”

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