Syracuse’s Arinze Onuaku is held back at the charity stripe.
It’s the Bible-truth. More men have been murked by the charity stripe than by the chainsaws. It was written.
We saw putrid, paltry and pathetic free-throw shooting slash and burn the numbers (along with overall player efficiency) of cats like Shaq, the God-awful Chris Dudley, and the tattoo-drenched, funky-hairdo sporting airball specialist, Dennis Rodman. The India ink-drenched Worm, as we recall, was outspoken about his free throw woes. “I can’t begin to describe the amount of crap I’ve taken for being a lousy free-throw shooter,” Rodman once said.
Of course, this is the same junkyard-dog/janitor brand of baller who said, “For five years I’ve felt like the best prostitute in a high-class whorehouse. But all the other girls get paid more than I do.”
Don’t get it twisted, there are plenty of other super-sized, bar room brawling bigs who simply couldn’t connect from the line. We’ve witnessed the shortfalls of Nick Anderson, who in June admitted he still surrenders sleep over the three consecutive freebies he coughed up in the 1995 NBA Finals.
Yes, these dates with the basket following a foul are free. No donation, no “everything must go!” half-price deal. The points aren’t always gift-wrapped. Men in zebra-dotted shirts don’t bring 1-3 points to your hotel room and gently ask you to initial.
Players can’t order these points off of MyPartyPlanner.com. It’s a simple chance to tally points behind a line 19 feet from the baseline, 15 feet from the basket. Free throws make or break a game/player. They allow a player to steer the pressure cooker with poise, peace, professionalism, and anxiety-slaying serenity. Some foul line clank artists peg FT woes as a mechanics problem, others have exposed it as a problem shining light on their fragile psyche.
For Syracuse’s Arinze Onuaku, however, they could be the difference between a mediocre season and being in the periphery of the Big East Player of the Year race. Not to kick-start a hype machine or boost his stock before he laces up his mammoth kicks this season, but the statistics, the results from last year… Well, quite frankly, it’s so jaw-droppingly obvious and the numbers nearly fall off the page.
The guy is 6-9, nearly 300 pounds, and can patrol the paint at will. If AO can just rectify his woeful free throw shooting miseries, he can emerge into a POY candidate. He can own the paint for ‘Cuse and create a promising frontline punch with Rick Jackson.
Sure, it’s going to be an uphill battle for a Syracuse team in dire need of immediately filling the scoring void that Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf left by bolting for the NBA and overseas. Onuaku gave a listless and lethargic account of himself from the free throw line last season, hoisting up the rock at a dreadful 30 percent (.298 to be exact).
There was a lid on the basket as the behemoth brick layer – -who shot a solid 67 percent from the field (point-blank range, putbacks, dunks) — hit 7 of his first 25 free throws against Big East opponents. It was a mystery to many, as the Lanham, MD product knocked them back with efficiency during the start of the ’08-09 campaign, when Syracuse no longer ate up creampuffs in their nonconference slate.
AO, a bruising interior force, hit seven straight in critical victories over formidable foes Kansas and Virginia. The big fella authored efficiency. He barely dipped below 50 percent before his free throw shooting made him the Big Least from the Big East.
Even Wilt had his struggles from the line (51.1 percent for his storied career). But AO’s free throw shooting can be the vital X-factor for the Orange next season. If he can take the lid off the basket and knock them down with the efficiency he did in nonconference games, his game will elevate into a new area code this year.
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.