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Cats' Mental Focus the Key to Free Throws

By Mark Janssen 

Attention Dr. Tom Amberry: Please report to Bramlage Coliseum ... immediately.

Who is the heck is Doc Amberry, you ask? Well, he's nicknamed the "Big Kahuna of Free Throws."

It was in November of 1993, that Amberry made ... you won't believe this ... a Guinness Book of World Record 2,750 consecutive free throws over a 12-hour period. As the tale goes, his streak didn't end with a miss, but they were locking up the gym and he was forced to quit shooting at nine in the evening.
 
Oh yes, Amberry was 71 years of age at the time.
 
For recreation, Amberry shoots 500 free throws a day with his percentage of makes being .995.
 
"When I miss, it's only because I've lost my concentration," Amberry said. "That's what it's all about. I know it's going in."
 
The Wildcats, the No. 5 ranked team in the nation, are connecting on 53 percent of their shots from the foul stripe so far this season. Roughly, that's making one, missing one; missing one, making one.
 
On the topic, coach Frank Martin offered a bit of a smirk when he said, "Contrary to popular belief, we actually do talk about free throw shooting around here."
 
In Wednesday's practice, the Cats shot, missed, and ran; shot, missed, and ran; shot, missed, and ran.
 
"We put them in game situations, and shoot them, and we shoot them at the end of practice," said Martin of working on free throws. "If we don't meet a certain percentage, we run. I've been doing the same thing since 1985 (when he was a high school coach in Miami, Fla.)."
 
To Martin, "Free throw shooting is all mental. It's an ability to stand at the line and focus on the rim. If you make it, you make it; if you miss, you miss. The bottom line is the only one that matters is the next one being shot. That's where your focus should be and the one you're trying to make. I'd like everyone to make 100 percent. I'd like everyone to shoot 92 percent. (Pause) I'd like everyone on this team to shoot over 50 percent," Martin said.
 
While saying he's not overly into percentages, Martin said 72 percent is the goal in practices.
 
Of K-State's starters, only Nick Russell (.778, 7-of-9) is hitting above 69 percent. Jacob Pullen is at .686 (24-of-35), Rodney McGruder.571 (8-of-14), Freddy Asprilla at .385 (5-of-13) and Wally Judge .200 (2-of-10).
 
Joining Russell as the only other marksman on the team is freshman reserve guard Will Spradling, who has netted 11-of-12 for .917 shooting.
 
K-State's five "bigs" of Asprilla, Judge, Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts are a collective 43 percent.
 
For the small guys, the troubles are just as puzzling. Martavious Irving is hitting 47 percent (8-of-17) on guarded 3-pointers, but only 14 percent (1-of-7) on non-guarded freebies.
 
Martin reasons that the woes come from the immaturity of the team.
 
"When I say immature, that doesn't mean the guys are playing marbles, but the guys are still young and don't understand how to focus on the job at hand," said Martin, whose first three teams shot .687, .648 and .668 from the line. "They have to learn how to keep the distractions away from what you're trying to get done. They just aren't as mentally disciplined as they need to be. That's our challenge."
 
He added, "If I had the answer, we'd be shooting 100 percent."
 
HEADING WEST: The 6-1 Wildcats will next play the 5-0 Washington State Cougars tonight at 10 (Central time) in the Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Series in Pullman, Wash. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
 
Behind Klay Thompson's 22.2 scoring average, Washington State is averaging 81.6 points per game and giving up only 55.4.
 
Asked if his Wildcats were ready for their first true road test of the year, Martin said, "We'll soon find out. We'll have to be disciplined and mentally tough. We had chances to win on the road last year because we were mentally tough. This year's team is very talented, and if we play well, we'll have a chance. But we'll have to grow up in a hurry. Winning on the road is not easy."
 
K-State is 1-2 in the Hardwood Series with the win coming last year over Washington State in Bramlage Coliseum, 86-69.
 
The Wildcats have lost nine games in a row to Pac-10 opponents on the road with the last win coming in 1980 at Arizona, 55-53.
 
The Wildcats are on an 11-game win streak in games played in the month of December, which includes a 7-0 record last year.