James improves on free throws

by Todd Zolecki

In practice it’s no problem. Just step up to the free throw line, relax and shoot. The ball always seems to go in.
Now if only Gophers forward Courtney James could re-create that scenario in games.
When it mattered most, he would step up to the line and clang a shot against the rim. The next one would hit the backboard. That was the norm for James, who entered Wednesday night’s game against Purdue a 48.6 percent free throw shooter.
The sophomore’s free-throw-shooting skills had been compared to those of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal.
But that all went away against the Boilermakers. James, in his native state of Indiana, hit 5-of-6 from the line, making two big shots after Purdue crept within three points with four minutes to play.
The change, James said, came through a lot of hard work. He said he recently shot about 300 or 400 free throws in one practice.
“I don’t miss (in practice),” he said. “There was a little pressure (Wednesday), but one thing I try to do is concentrate and take a deep breath.”
For those who think James isn’t telling the truth, his teammates stick up for him.
“He’s really good at practice shooting at the free throw line,” guard Bobby Jackson said. “He knows he’s going to get fouled. We don’t want the ball in his hands, but sometimes he’ll get the ball. He’s got confidence in himself.
“I just told him, Just like practice baby. Just like practice.'”
He has improved since the nonconference season when he made only 45 percent. But in Big Ten play, including Wednesday’s game, he’s making 58 percent.
“I know I can make free throws,” he said. “They take a lot of hard work. At first I missed a lot, but I’ve worked hard at making them.”
Changing of the guard
Most of those present at Mackey Arena thought they witnessed a game that crowned a new Big Ten champion. In the postgame press conference, Purdue coach Gene Keady was asked to compare No. 3 Minnesota to any of his last three teams to win the title.
“I don’t know if we ever looked that good,” he said.
Previous Haskins teams never looked so good at Mackey. Before Wednesday’s win, Haskins was 0-10 there.
“In previous years, my first three years, we had no chance to win here,” he said. “If we would stay within 15 points, that would be very fortunate. You win with players. Don’t let anybody kid you. You win with talent. We have good talent.”
“Big Mo” Revisited
During the game’s first nine minutes — chock full of errant passes and balls flying out of bounds — Haskins and Keady must have thought they were back at Western Kentucky where the two coached together from 1978-80.
In Keady’s first year as head coach, he had Haskins, then his assistant, recruit and sign a player from Alpina, Mich., named Alex Mosley. Haskins signed the center without ever seeing him play, and to his chagrin found out that “Big Mo” couldn’t play. He discovered this semi-important detail when Mosley’s own teammates didn’t pick him to play in a five-on-five intrasquad scrimmage.
The team had 11 players. Another thing, Mosley was about eight inches taller than every other player on the team.
His big downfall? He couldn’t catch the ball and had a gift for knocking balls out of bounds while trying to rebound — similar to the Gophers’ and Boilermakers’ 18 turnovers in those first nine minutes.
“We turned the ball over for no reason,” Keady said. “They saw things out there that I didn’t see.
“When you’re young and scared, you make mistakes. I’m not sure if we were scared, but we played like we were.”