By Dave Mast
They are a rare breed, players who can stare down a pressure-cooker of a shot from 22 feet and drill home a winner with laser accuracy.
Not everyone can stand beyond the 3-point arc and knock down shot after shot, but for those who can, they provide plenty of big moments and often times bring momentum to their team when they can get it done.
Michael DeWitt, who set the West Holmes boys record for 3-pointers in a season two years ago, did just that when he hit three straights treys late against Garaway to propel the Knights to victory.
Seger Bonifant, former Hiland Hawks star, has connected on 21 triples in just three games for West Liberty University this season.
Exactly what is it that runs through these lethal shooters’ veins, that allows them to fire away with incredible acumen from downtown?
Several area coaches sounded off about what they believe makes great shooters able to withstand the pressure and come through in the clutch.
West Holmes coach Keith Troyer, Hiland coach Mark Schlabach and Garaway coach Dave Shutt all provided their credible insight as to what it takes to perfect the art of shooting from deep.
Oddly enough, our coaches eschewed the physical attributes of arm angles and hand positions, and went instead to the legs. All talked about the importance of footwork, something most people don’t think about when shooting threes.
“Ten toes pointed toward the rim. The one technique which is the most important is footwork,” said Schlabach. “When you look at good shooters, they all have a balance and they are all properly set up to shoot, square to the bucket.”
Falling away from the bucket, shooting when not properly squared and fading off to either side are all bad habits which limit success of shooters.
Troyer agreed, noting that becoming a great shooter is all about getting in proper shooting position by creating proper footwork. He also said that one aspect of shooting a 3-pointer has less to do with the shooter and more to do with the player getting the shooter the ball.
“You have to be in a position that allows you to get your shot off quickly, but the person passing you the ball has to get it where it needs to be to allow you to do that,” said Troyer.
West Holmes senior Nate Hall is a great example. Get Hall the ball where he can simply catch and shoot and he can be ultra-dangerous.
“Nate has such an incredibly quick release and understands how to position himself so well, that any time we get him the ball where he doesn’t have to make adjustments, he is going to be pretty good,” said Troyer.
Many good shooters have trouble trying to create their own shots from beyond the arc, and need the time to set up and step into a shot.
That requires a great pass to set everything in motion.
However, learning how to set yourself and prepare your body to launch from downtown is vital.
“It all starts with your footwork,” said Shutt. “Every good shot begins with that. Developing your mechanics to make sure you are shooting the ball the same very time is what makes great shooters, but it isn’t all in your arms and wrists and hands. Properly setting your feet is huge.
“And obviously, repetition becomes a key factor. When you look at the really good shooters, they shoot a lot of shots, and work on doing the same thing every time. And you want to try to emulate the speed of a game-time situation. You have to put yourself into that pressure situation as much as possible.”
While technique and footwork are crucial, our panel of coaches agreed that the number one priority in becoming a great shooter is repetition.
Schlabach said that his team’s best shooters are guys who are willing to put in countless hours by themselves, just making sure they are doing all of the fundamental things properly like squaring up and going straight up in the air, forming that perfect follow through and a myriad of other mechanical issues.
However, he said time is the key to all good shooters.
“I think form can be a little overrated,” said Schlabach. “Just putting in the time is crucial. When you take 30-40,000 shots in the offseason, that makes up for a lack of technique because you feel comfortable with what you are doing as a shooter.”
If a youngster wants to emulate a player who does just that, Bonifant would be a perfect place to start.
The West Lib junior has worked diligently on his shot. Thousands upon thousands of shots, countless hours of working and perfecting his shot, all add up to his maturing into one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters.
Schlabach said he has never seen anyone work harder on their shot than Bonifant, and that is why he is such a tremendous talent.
“If you watch Seger shoot in practice, he is drenched in sweat in about a 15 minute workout,” said Schlabach. “He is shooting at game speed. He has someone rebound for him, and he isn’t just out there shooting around. He is running into his shots, shooting like he would in a game. He practices with incredible purpose each time out. Everything he does is serious, and he does it to develop repetition that he will experience in game situations. He is constantly trying to perfect his shot. He has definitely put in the time to get where he is today.”
“You look at the great NBA shooters like Steph Curry, and those guys put hours and hours every day into perfecting their shots,” added Shutt.
Footwork, mechanics, repetition and work habits all add up to one thing which is ultimately going to determine whether a shot goes in or not.
Great shooters have what coaches call a shooter’s mentality, that being that they believe the next one will go in despite having missed the prior five shots. If a shooter doesn’t believe in themselves, that they are going to make a shot, they probably won’t.
“Basically, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you aren’t going to help your team by taking those shots,” said Troyer. “You can’t wish shots in, you have to prepare yourself and work at it. Doing all of the little things give you the confidence that you can step up and make a key shot.”
Then there is something players may not have as much control over. Having that killer instinct in which a player doesn’t allow the pressure of the moment to overwhelm them is more innate than anything they can learn on the floor or in practice.
Sometimes players have that fearless nature, others do not have that luxury.
“That comes with confidence,” said Troyer. “You can’t beat believing in yourself.”
Fundamentals. Footwork. Repetition. Self-confidence. Balance. Who knew shooting a 3-pointer was so difficult?
Becoming a great shooter takes time and commitment, but the rewards are certainly explosive when you can ignite the home crowd.