Chasing a record, Chambers explains art of free throws

By Joshua Kinder

Brittany Chambers likes to keep it simple.

Two bounces and a quick look at the rim is all the Kansas State guard needs before she lets the ball fly on a free throw.

Whatever Chambers does at the line is working these days.

The junior from Jordan, Minn., has been so hot from the charity stripe of late that she’s crawled her way into the Wildcats’ record books, ranking second with 29 straight makes, behind only Ashley Sweat, who drained 33 in a row during the 2008-09 season. Chambers passed Kendra Wecker’s mark of 28 straight during the Wildcats’ win over Kansas on Sunday when she was 4-for-4.

Chambers could break the record tonight when the Wildcats face Oklahoma at 7 on the road.

Though Chambers opts for simple, for others, trips to the free throw line are more complicated and elaborate. Most have a routine of some sort. But many keep it simple like Chambers with one or two dribbles and then the shot. Some adjust their arm bands or knee pads, use a triple-bounce, roll the ball around their hands and arms, spin the ball or crouch real low and make a long, drawn-out delivery to the basket.

K-State coach Deb Patterson prefers the simple routines.

“On my team, if it was at all unusual, I stopped it,” she said this week. “I don’t like it. I won’t mess with a lot of people’s shots, but if they bring a crazy free throw routine, I stop it. If I saw somebody who wanted to do the three low dribbles and then spin it up, I’d be like, ‘no, no,’ and then they’d know, and then change it.”

“It’s like, ‘keep it simple, stupid,’ the old kiss rule, or I’m not having it.”

Nicole Ohlde had a habit of always wiping her feet before free throws and Shalee Lehning, early on, performed the sign of the cross before taking her free shots — something she did in high school.

“I was OK with those,” Patterson said. “That wasn’t spinning the ball, rolling it off your finger, pulling it back to your body and then spinning it again kind of stuff.

“Ohlde didn’t mess around with the ball, so I was OK with that.”

Chambers’ routine is less about the mechanics of a free throw routine and more about what’s going on upstairs in her head.

“I try to keep it simple and quick and get it over with,” Chambers said. “It’s all mental for me, always has been.”

But no need to worry about jinxing Chambers either when it comes to her current streak. She’s well aware of what she’s accomplished and she’s keeping tabs on it herself.

The reason for that is also simple.

Chambers wasn’t very good at the line a year ago when she connected on just 61 percent of her shots from there — a step back from her freshman season when she posted the eighth-best mark for a single season at 84 percent.

“I pay attention to it because I was bad last year,” said Chambers, who leads the Wildcats with 15.3 points per game. “Last year against Texas Tech, I missed two free throws and we ended up losing in double-overtime. That’s where it hit me — I was bad.”

She decided that something needed to change, and most of it was just in her head. After all, Chambers has made a career of burying the difficult shots — from long range, often several feet behind the 3-point arc, on the run, to even sinking the acrobatic layup on a drive in the paint without even looking at the rim.

So, what gives on the easiest, unguarded shot in the game?

“Last year, I got in a really bad funk and if you don’t think you’ll make it, it won’t go in,” she said. “Then something as easy a free throw for me is going to become harder than any 3-point shot on the court. This year, it’s a confidence thing.”

That confidence is showing through too, as she’s made 30-of-33 in Big 12 play to lead the conference at 91 percent from the line. The last free throw Chambers missed was in the second half against Texas A&M — the Big 12 opener — on Jan. 4.

Though Chambers is making free throws look easy, they really aren’t for some. For some, it’s the absolute worst nightmare going to the line, almost like a punishment — which is often the case for their team if they misfire. Many have a graceful arc to the ball, while others go for the line drive approach or just throw the ball at the rim, hoping it goes in. And then there’s the always-embarrassing airball on the free throw.

K-State coach Deb Patterson understands why people think the free throw should be the easiest shot, but also understands exactly what it’s not — despite being only 15 feet away, straight on to the rim and with nobody guarding you on a shot that you don’t have to rush.

“I think it’s really hard because you’ve been playing at this crazy pace, you’ve been physical and some of the players who step to the line haven’t had a touch in maybe 2 or 3 minutes,” Patterson said. “Then they have to completely stop everything and bring to it this stopping point. To me, I get why it’s difficult and I hate when we miss them, but I do get the challenge of them.”

For Chambers, free throws are just as important during her shooting workouts as making a deep 3-pointer. She supplements a series of four shots from the line between various shooting drills, as her break, then resumes her workout, and then goes back to the line for more. Chambers closes every workout with 10 free throws.

“Sometimes I tell myself I only get 10 and what you make is what you make, which can be frustrating if you don’t do well,” she said.

And that’s when she sometimes finds herself adding more shots to the workout until she makes 10 straight, like she’s competing with herself.

Again, though, Chambers understands the importance of free throw shooting. Like the game a year ago at Tech that resulted in a loss, she was called on this past Sunday to make two clutch shots at the line in a two-point game with 7 seconds left. She didn’t even flinch — as she drained both to secure a 47-43 win over the rival Jayhawks.

“It’s a mental thing for me,” she said. “A lot of times it’s a critical situation if those two points are points you miss, it’s like a stab in the back — especially after you work so hard to get that foul. You need to capitalize on it, especially if you’re in an end-of-the-game situation and you miss, that’s going to be in your head for a long, long time.”

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