Spread by Ben Coon
Spread by Ben Coon

Ciara Gregory is dangerous.

Not only is the junior guard a threat from behind the arc, but she keeps defenders on their heels with her proficiency from the foul line. Give Gregory a foot and she’ll rise up from deep. Give her an inch and she’ll drive to the basket. The Jeannette, Pa. native leads the nation in free-throw percentage, converting 95 percent of her attempts.

In a world in which a plethora of players struggle with free-throws, Gregory makes the task look simple. Just how does she do it?

The whistle blows and Gregory steps to the line. While one referee signals the foul to the sideline, Gregory makes her way to the charity stripe.

She looks down, staggering her feet before receiving the ball from the official. She centers her right foot along the black line while her left foot rests inches behind the other. Her positioning is key. The staggered base creates balance, minimizing the chances of an errant release.

She stands 15 feet from the hoop, centered on the foul line.

Her arms rest at her sides as she takes a breath. Her body is squared to the basket, stance shoulder width apart. The referee bounces Gregory the ball. She catches it without diverting from the original base she set for herself.

What has become routine for Gregory is still an unmastered art form for others.

Ciara Gregory's immaculate free throw. GIF courtesy Charlotte Media Relations
Ciara Gregory’s immaculate free-throw. GIF courtesy Charlotte Media Relations

Upon receiving the ball, Gregory positions her hands. She bounces it twice, creating fluidity within her motion. Midway through the second dribble, she begins to bend at the knees, which becomes the catalyst for her power behind the shot.

She maintains her stability and positions her right arm at approximately a 90 degree angle, right shoulder tucked away remaining perpendicular to the hardwood. Her left arm rests at an obtuse angle with her left hand positioned on the side of the basketball, serving as a guide. Her fingertips loosely grip the orange leather.

She looks towards the rim for the first time since receiving the ball. She now focuses her attention and zones out distractions. She releases one last deep breath. Her body begins to rise, each muscle in sync.

Gregory’s shot ascends from her waist and as she reaches her forehead, she begins her release. She rises onto her tip-toes, heels hovering above the court. Gregory maintains her line of sight towards the basket and extends her arms. She smoothly flicks her right wrist. The junior’s left wrist pulls away from the ball; it’s done its job.

She releases her shot, creating backspin as the ball tumbles through the air between two and three rotations. The backspin deadens the ball, initiating a favorable result should the ball touch the rim. The power and arc Gregory established gives her mathematically the best chances of sinking the foul shot. Her trajectory is near perfect as she creates an opportune angle for the ball to pass through the rim.

Ciara Gregory leads the nation in free-throw percentage at 95 percent
Ciara Gregory leads the nation in free throw percentage at 95 percent

If Gregory doesn’t establish enough arc, she minimizes her target radius. Too much arc produces inconsistency, leading to over-shooting that usually results in a brick.

As her shot flutters through the air, she drops her arms back to her sides. The result is well-known and documented as well as expected.

Swish.

Contrary to popular belief, the free-throw is far from a freebie. At the highest level, only a few players boast a free-throw percentage over 90. It’s not a technique mastered overnight. Gregory’s countless repetitions and hours in the gym after practice from a young age led to an unrivaled free-throw shooting ability. It’s a talent that shouldn’t go under-appreciated, but should instead be admired.

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Jared Allen is the Sports Editor for the Niner Times. He has been involved with the newspaper since August 2014. In addition to being a part of the Niner Times, he hosts "The 91st Minute Radio" and calls play-by-play for the Charlotte 49ers men's and women's soccer teams on Radio Free Charlotte. Aside from being a sports (predominantly soccer) fanatic, he enjoys blogging, traveling and occasional backpacking. You can contact him at sports@ninertimes.com

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