It's part game show, part “Officer and a Gentleman.”
It's all Jeff Capel.
Capel is the only Charlotte Bobcats assistant who has lasted through three head coaches for this expansion franchise. And that might be, in part, because of “Free Throw School.”
It was an idea Capel adapted from his past, both as a college coach and an Army private. Capel believes no basketball player should be a bad foul-shooter. So virtually from the day he was named an assistant on Bernie Bickerstaff's original Bobcats staff, Capel looked to improve what this team did at the line.
It was a thankless job, particularly when the Bobcats finished 29th among 30 NBA teams last season. But as of Monday, they were 15th in the league, at a respectable 77 percent. Maybe that's because two newcomers, D.J. Augustin and Shannon Brown, are shooting better than 90 percent from the line. Or maybe it's because the weak foul-shooters in the rotation – Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Emeka Okafor and Jared Dudley – are working at their craft.
Wallace, Richardson and Dudley are all in Capel's free-throw school at the end of each practice. Okafor dropped out, to work instead with assistant coach Dave Hanners.
Capel's OK with Okafor's choice – free-throw school has never been mandatory. Technically, at least.
“That is garbage!” Dudley said with a laugh, at the suggestion he had a choice not to join in. “I don't even know how I got in it, except I shot a bad percentage last season.”
Free-throw school started when Wallace and Capel got together to discuss Wallace's development before the Bobcats' first season. Wallace was a poor foul-shooter, so Capel spent the better part of a summer sitting Wallace in a chair in front of the basket, looking to improve his stroke. It was a logical strategy, since Wallace's problem is a flat delivery.
The class grew when Richardson arrived from Golden State. As good as Richardson is from long range, he's always been shaky at the foul line.
Now any rotation player who finishes the season below 75 percent at the line gets an invitation to free-throw school.
“Once you're in, I won't let you out until you reach 75 percent” for a season, Capel said.
The “school” is actually an end-of-practice competition. Each player takes three sets of 10 free throws. He must make at least eight free throws for the set to count. And for each miss, there's a penalty: You have to drop to the floor and perform “mountain-climbers,” an exercise from Capel's military days.
“You get down in a sprint position, usually with the right leg forward under your chest, and it's an alternating exercise with the right leg or left leg coming to your chest,” Capel described. “I did it in the Army, in basic training, and we had to do 50 of them every morning.”
The idea is to create stakes, since so much of foul-shooting is performing under pressure with concentration. It gets competitive and a bit silly at times with players distracting each other at the line. And yet there's a collective prize:
If each player manages to go 10-for-10 in at least one set, “then I owe them 10 mountain-climbers,” Capel described.
It's early in the season, but the results so far are promising: Richardson (currently out with the knee injury) is shooting 83 percent from the line and Wallace is shooting 77 percent. If that holds up for the season, they'd be career-bests for both players.
Dudley is still struggling, shooting 64 percent. And if any new guys need the extra work, they can expect some peer pressure to join free-throw school.
“It is a little like high school,” Wallace joked. “We're kind of like the 12th-graders, picking on the freshmen.”