Back when Kansas State was one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the entire country, the Wildcats had no choice but to get creative.
Not only did Frank Martin and his coaching staff try every shooting drill and practice technique they could think of to fix the problem, they issued special challenges to their players.
In the case of Will Spradling, who is one of the best foul shooters on K-State’s roster, assistant coach Brad Underwood challenged the freshman guard to beat his personal record for consecutive free throws made, which he set while playing for K-State by draining 111 straight.
Underwood checked in with Spradling every few days after that with one simple question: “You beat my record yet.”
When Spradling finally did, Underwood didn’t need to ask.
“I remember waking up to a voicemail from him,” Underwood said. “I knew then he got it. On his message he says, ‘Coach, I didn’t just break your record, I shattered it.’”
While practicing in Bramlage Coliseum one night, Spradling sank 149 straight free throws. Pretty impressive to you or me. Not to Underwood.
“What happened on 150?” Underwood told him the next time they met. “What kind of player stops at 149? Let me know when you hit 150.”
That kind of demanding style has rubbed off to the rest of the team. Sure, the Wildcats may not be one of the Big 12′s top free-throw shooting teams (averaging 64.4 percent for the season) but they are no longer the conference’s worst. That honor now belongs to Texas.
And if you look only at their free-throw shooting during conference play, the Wildcats rank fifth in the league after making 72.9 percent from the line. Considering where they started the year, making 60 percent of their foul shots just once in their first 13 games, it is a remarkable turnaround.
So remarkable that Martin chuckled when he was asked about it earlier this week.
“I remember questions if we knew what we were doing about shooting free throws,” Martin said. “Obviously our guys have spent some time in here and our assistants have done a pretty damn good job of helping them with their mechanics and their mind to help them make them consistently.”
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts admitted it wasn’t an easy process.
“Coach just disciplined us in practice,” Henriquez-Roberts said. “He challenged us to make free throws in the middle of practice, whether it was after a drill or during five-on-five or at the end of practice, just challenging us to make free throws.”
They have been at their best recently, making more than 70 percent of their foul shots in each of their past six games, all of which have been victories.
“For us as a team to do that,” Henriquez-Roberts said, “it shows that we improved a lot.”
The improvement could turn out to be very beneficial.
Unlike at the beginning of the year, K-State heads into the postseason liking its chances in any close game that comes down to foul shooting.