With apologies to Mark Twain, everybody talks about free throwing in basketball, but nobody seems to do a lot about it, for whatever the reason.
It brings up the tantalizing prospect that if Brandon Rush and Julian Wright are toiling as pros the coming season, Kansas could evolve into the kind of slash-and-burn outfit it never was with Julian and Brandon on board. Too much Hesitation Waltz, a la Aaron Miles, not enough penetration to draw fouls. If Rush and Wright are to make the NBA, they'll have to expose themselves to more pain and suffering and capitalize on the muggings.
Maybe Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed can be tutored to change the scenery in 2007-08. Need more guys at the charity stripe to approximate the input of producers like Wayne Simien, Kirk Hinrich, Rex Walters, Jeff Boschee and Keith Langford. You know, guys who take off their party clothes and mix it up enough to force opponents into foul trouble.
Not many 10- or 11-free throw nights last season such as Wayne, Kirk, Jeff and Keith could create.
Quick rehash. In 38 games last season, KU's Rush was 79-116 (.681) at the foul line. That's not even four appearances per game. Wright was 73-119 (.613), still not a four average. Chalmers was 87-113 (.770) and is clearly somebody who should be earning eight to 10 pokes a game. Robinson was 71-109 (.651) but is capable of far, far better as a thrusting quarterback.
The only other Jayhawk last season with more than 100 free throw tries was Darnell Jackson, 67-102 (.657). Both he and Darrell Arthur (64-99) could see enough minutes to perform far, far better. What if coach Bill Self gambled on starting three big guys and two littles, and reverted to the old center-forward-forward-guard-guard format which would have Sasha Kaun, Jackson, Arthur, Robinson and Chalmers starting? Must there be only two bigs and three guards? That old 3-2 formation has won a lot of games over the years.
Kaun (31-62) looks like he's been taking lessons from Christian Moody. Nobody needs to close the gap more than Kaun. But with Cole Aldrich coming along to help, things are far from bleak along the frontline, whether there are two or three bigs on the floor at the same time.
Back to Rush and Wright and their 116 and 119 appearances at the stripe last season. Texas' Kevin Durant, who had no fear of contact, was 209-259 for 81.9 percent. That doubles our two guys' jaunts. At Texas A&M, gritty All-American Acie Law had a 144-185 free-throw stat, 77.8 percent. Think of the points Kansas missed with its main guys in absentia.
As a team, Kansas had an unacceptable 535-811 (.660) free-throw record while the opponents combined for a 487-726 (.671).
Wilt Chamberlain had one 18-free throw game and Simien had two. Wilt earned 23 shots once in '58 and was 427-691 for his career. Heading the charts is Darnell Valentine, 541-754, 1978-81. Darnell never became a strong free thrower as a pro even though his aggressive play drew a lot of fouls.
Coaches often debunk talk of the value of free throws, but if Kansas can improve enough in this category for '07-08, it can win some extra games, maybe several big ones.