For Better Shooting, Think Big

A team of Ohio entrepreneurs insists that their oversized basketball will improve your touch
April 21, 1991

Dick Woods wants to make me a better basketball player. That's what he says. He claims he can do it without sending me to a camp or selling me how-to videos. He says it's all in the ball—his ball. The Bigball.

The Bigball is Jupiter to the standard basketball's Earth. It's 11.46 inches wide and has a circumference of 36 inches, compared with 9.55 and 30 for a regulation ball. A basketball rim is 18 inches in diameter so Bigball still fits through.

That's all there is to being a better shooter, says Woods: Use a bigger ball. Indeed, he points out, some bona fide basketball players are training and improving with Bigball. The UCLA varsity, which started using Bigball in twice-a-week sessions last year, recently finished ninth in the nation in field goal percentage and improved its free throw shooting from 68.2% in 1989-90 to 73.9%. A year ago the Houston Rockets ranked third-worst among 27 NBA teams in turnovers; in the current, Bigball-aided campaign, they're seventh-best.

What's the ball's big secret? "If you do nothing more than throw Bigball back and forth for 20 minutes," says Woods, "it makes a regular ball seem like a volleyball." That is, easier to handle, easier to toss and toss the right way. "To be a good shooter you need a high arc. The Bigball eliminates flat-line shooting because you must put an arc on the ball to sink it."

The Bigball was designed not by Woods but by Gregg Smurthwaite, a retired Columbus, Ohio, parks superintendent and part-time inventor, who lists among his creations an after-sports citrus beer that doesn't leave the drinker dehydrated. In 1984 Smurthwaite wondered if a bigger practice ball might help his friend Chuck Kemper, who was coaching Columbus's Bishop Wehrle High basketball team. Smurthwaite stripped the cover from a conventional basketball and added air to the existing bladder. A local leather shop fashioned a new, larger cover for his rubber sphere, and Bigball was born.

From 1986 to 1990, Bishop Wehrle won four state Division IV championships. Smurthwaite, meanwhile, began wondering about Bigball's commercial possibilities. One day he came across a magazine story about Woods's house in nearby Dublin, which featured a 30- by 30-foot indoor basketball court. "I figured, boy, this guy must love basketball," says Smurthwaite. "And then I figured, if he can afford that, he might be interested in helping out with the ball."

Woods, Smurthwaite and a third partner, Bret Adams—who has virtually abandoned his law practice for Bigball—formed Advanced Sports Concepts, Inc. in 1989. They contracted with B‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√üden Sports, a Seattle sporting goods manufacturer, to produce Bigballs. Since hanging out their shingle, they've sold 5,000 oversized basketballs through the mail and in stores, and are scrambling hard to meet growing demand with supply.

"Try it," Woods suggests. He hands me a big ball. The Bigball.

I lug the thing in a sack at my side, bowling-ball style, to a local gym that has been the site of my greatest intramural triumphs. I shoot around for 30 minutes or so. Two things quickly become apparent. First, there is no such thing as a friendly rim with Bigball. Because of the ball's size, the trajectory of the shot must drop it straight through the cylinder—swish it or miss it. And second, the deep-decibel clunk of a missed shot is amplified by Bigball.

I find myself missing fewer and fewer shots. The arc of my jumper becomes a rainbow, of necessity.

It's time to see what I, under the influence of Bigball, can do in a game. I should mention that I am not, in any universe, swift of hand or foot. And because Bigball is larger than a standard ball, it is, like me, slow—especially when coming off the rim. Once the game has started, I find that I am not prepared for the conventional ball's quickness and for its sharp rebounding angles. A shot bangs off the rim and goes through my hands—which are a Bigball's width apart—and slams into my nose.

As the game progresses, I find myself shooting with newfound confidence (and success). I'm sure much of the improvement can be attributed solely to Bigball's psychological effect—If lean sink a medicine ball, this one's cake. But facts are facts, and I do feel I shoot better for having been exposed to Bigball. I don't score in double digits or anything extreme like that, but I shoot better.

My team loses by two. Crouched in a far corner of the gym, sucking wind, I gather my things. I will call Woods and Smurthwaite, I decide, and ask if they can get to work on Quickfeet.

PHOTOBRUCE ZAKEWoods grasped the ball's potential on his personal indoor court.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)