WASHINGTON (Reuters) - College of Charleston guard Canyon Barry says he is accustomed to hearing the cheeky chants from the crowd when he steps to the free-throw line and launches the shot under-handed.
“I get used to it,” said Barry, a son of basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who was the godfather of under-handed free throws. “When I’m on the road, people see the first shot and do double-takes. You can almost hear them saying, ‘What was that?’”
At a recent game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the crowd roared in unison, “granny shot, granny shot” as Barry lofted his first few free throws. The chorus, however, quickly lost steam when Barry drained shot after shot.
Barry said he is puzzled why more players do not make the switch from the traditional free-throwing shooting style to under-handed, a throwback to the early days of basketball and rarely seen today.
“That’s something that has surprised me and my dad for a long time now,” Barry said. “Especially when you have people shooting 40 or 50 percent. Why not give it a shot? There’s no harm in trying when you’re shooting that poorly. I’m not sure if it’s a pride thing or people just don’t think they can do it.”
Barry converted from the traditional free throw as a junior in high school and each season has felt more comfortable with the under-handed shot. This year, as a junior at the South Carolina college, Barry is hitting an impressive 87 percent of his free throws through the team’s first nine games.
Sounding every bit the physics major he is, Barry said the under-handed motion is more fluid than the traditional shot. He said there is less movement and less use of body joints, which makes it an easier motion to repeat.
“There are less hinges that you have to account for,” he said. “It just comes in with a lot softer trajectory. It goes right over the front of the rim. That aids in being a really soft shot. You get a lot of good rolls, a lot of good bounces.”
Rick Barry, who played a total of 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association before retiring in 1978, knows the stigma attached to the under-handed shot. He said he was not easily converted.
“I told my dad, ‘I can’t shoot that way. They’ll make fun of me. That’s the way girls shoot,’” Rick Barry recalled. “He said, ‘Son, they can’t make fun of you if you’re making them.’”
Rick Barry, who led the Golden State Warriors to the 1975 NBA title, became one of pro basketball’s best-ever free-throw shooters, nailing nearly 90 percent. Now 71, Barry said the under-handed shot is more instinctive.
“Who walks around with their arms over their shoulders?,” he said. “With the under-handed shot, you stand there with your arms hanging down in a totally relaxed position. It makes so much sense to me.”
College of Charleston coach Earl Grant said there is “a level of shock” from the crowd when Barry shoots free throws on the road.
“Sure, I’ve heard the ‘granny shot’ chants,” Grant said. “But not for long. It’s hard to say much when he goes to the line and makes the shot.”
Four of Rick Barry’s sons have played professional basketball. Grant said Canyon, at 6-foot-6 (1.98 meters), has the potential to be something special.
“What I say about Canyon is what Michelangelo would say about his art,” he said. “The angel is already in the stone. I’ve just got to continue to help it get out. I’ve always said if Canyon can improve on certain things, he’ll be unbelievable.”
Barry is averaging a team-best 21.4 points per game this season. He is the only Barry sibling who stayed with under-handed free throws.
“If I could make it to the NBA, that would be a dream come true,” Barry said.
“But I know that the chances of anyone going professional are incredibly remote. I’m just going to play my hardest and see where basketball takes me.”
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham