He stands at the free throw line and dribbles twice. Gripping the sides of the basketball, he holds it slightly between his legs and bends his knees. Bringing both hands up in one fluid motion, he releases the bal,l and it gracefully spins into the basket.
Rick Barry was the master of the underhand free throw—also known as the “granny” shot. His stats speak for themselves. He was a 90 percent free throw shooter over the course of his entire career, and in his 1978-79 NBA season, he only missed nine free throws.
The underhand free throw is an unconventional but highly successful free throw method. Players who have adopted the technique greatly improve their percentages over time.
Canyon Barry, Rick Barry’s son, used the underhand free throw and shot an 86 percent average in his last years playing for the University of Florida Gators. NBA player Chinanu Onuaku brought his average from 46.7 percent to 72.4 percent within his first three years playing college ball after adopting the method.
So why don’t we see more players shooting the underhand free throw?
“When we were kids we shot it like that, but you don’t see it anymore today,” said Sarah Garvie, a player on the ORU women’s basketball team.
Garvie continued, “I don’t know if it will become a trend in college basketball because it’s not pleasing to the eye. A pretty shot is nice—it has a follow through. It’s not just like throwing it up from below your legs.”
She was taught her whole life to put her “hand in the cookie jar” and follow through with the shot, arm up in the air. Now that she is this far into her career, Garvie believes trying a new way of free throws will throw off her rhythm.
“Once you get your rhythm down and can hit five for five and 10 for 10, you kinda keep that same pattern when you go up to the free throw line,” said Garvie.
Nevertheless, Garvie gave the shot a try and made it on her second throw. As the statistics show, the “granny” shot works, and Garvie agreed it could be useful.
“If you’re not a good free throw shooter, it’d be good maybe to try something new,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it, but if it worked for somebody—I mean hey, whose to tell them how to do it?”