Florida seeing progress at stripe after visit from shrink
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Desperate to improve Florida's free-throw shooting last season, coach Mike White tried a little bit of everything.
He tweaked some of his players' mechanics. He increased repetitions in practice. He had guys shoot while tired, winded and with some team accountability at stake. He even considered bringing in a sports psychologist.
''I didn't want it to become more mental than it already was,'' White said Tuesday.
So he waited until the offseason.
That's when White brought in renowned sports psychologist Spencer Wood to work with the Gators this summer.
''If you can train your mind, use different methods to understand how to stay in that place - whatever that place is for you or whatever that trigger word is for you - or get you back into that place of calm, or confident, those type things, I think it can help you with the rest of your game as well,'' said White, who's in his second season in Gainesville.
So far, it's made a noticeable difference for Florida (2-0), which plays St. Bonaventure (1-0) in Lakeland on Thursday night.
After ranking 323rd (out of 346 NCAA teams) from the foul line last season, shooting a meager 64.7 percent, Florida is up to 78.6 percent from there this season. Two games are hardly enough of a sample size to make White a believer, but he wants to think there is improvement.
''You hope that moving forward we can be in the same mindset,'' White said. ''I'm not sure it's fixed. I don't want to sit here and think we're a great free-throwing shooting team. But what we've seen the first two games is what we've been in practice. You want that to continue, of course. Our guys are in a pretty good place.''
White said feedback was positive, especially from center John Egbunu, point guard Kasey Hill and forward Justin Leon. Egbunu (53.2 percent), Hill (53.8) and Leon (46.2) were among Florida's worst foul shooters last season. All three are above 70 percent through two games.
Leon said Wood worked with players to find their ''hype meter'' on a scale of 1 to 10, telling them they needed to play defense at a more frantic pace than offense, especially at the line.
''He gave me a lot of different breathing patterns,'' Leon added. ''So that's really been working for me. ... It's good to see it impact the game. That means the stuff we've been doing is working and it shows we've taken to the time to put the effort in the gym.''
Wood's resume includes a number of college and professional teams. He even worked with the Gators previously, getting invited by former Florida coach Billy Donovan before the 2010 season and helping that team deal with the psychological aspects of trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. The Gators, led by Chandler Parsons, Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, returned to the tournament.
White blamed free-throw shooting for his team missing the NCAA Tournament last season. The Gators blew several leads, failing to put teams away late from the line, and had double-digit misses in 10 games.
The Gators look considerably more confident this season. If not for newcomer Canyon Barry missing three of his first four underhanded free throws in the opener because of nerves, the Gators would have shot at least 80 percent from the charity stripe in both games.
''Very nice, very nice,'' White said. ''Knock on wood we continue shooting it this way. We have in practice. We just hope we continue to see that carry over. You can see it their body languages, a little more confident at the foul line. ... It's a big factor for us. It kept up out of the NCAA Tournament last year, single-handily, and hopefully this year we continue shooting like this.''
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