MADISON, Wis. — Ryan Evans is tired of the airballs, the bank shots, the free-throw attempts that clank back rim with no chance of falling through the hoop.
Wisconsin’s much-maligned forward is willing to go to great lengths to fix the problem while there is still time — even if it means shooting jump shots from the foul line.
During Sunday’s practice, Evans debuted a new look, gathering the ball a step behind the free throw line and firing up a mid-range jumper as though he were in the middle of a game.
“Just kind of experimenting a little bit,” Evans said. “I’m in the business of winning, so I’m just trying to do what I can to regain that confidence at the line.”
Evans, a career 71.1 percent free throw shooter at Wisconsin before this season, inexplicably lost his touch the instant his senior season began. He made just 1 of 8 attempts during Wisconsin’s season opener against Southeastern Louisiana, and things hardly improved over the next 26 games.
This season, Evans is shooting 40.5 percent from the free throw line (51 of 126) — by far the worst percentage on the team among regular rotation players. Forward Mike Bruesewitz is next at 63.8 percent (30 for 47).
Badgers coach Bo Ryan approached Evans with the idea of trying jump shots at the line. One week earlier, following Wisconsin’s 58-53 overtime loss to Minnesota, Ryan told reporters the Badgers would have won if Evans could make free throws.
During the game, Evans made just 2 of 8 attempts, prompting Ryan to say: “What am I going to do with the guy?”
Evans said he spent Saturday’s practice trying to bank in free throws flat-footed. He jokingly — or perhaps not so jokingly — suggested he would even try underhanded attempts on Monday.
“I’ll try anything,” Evans said. “We’re out here to win games. If that’s how I can help the team, that’s how it needs to be done.”
Ryan has reminded Evans that former NBA All-Star Hal Greer took jump shots from the free throw line quite successfully. During a professional basketball career that lasted from 1958 to 1973, Greer shot 80.1 percent from the foul line.
Oddly enough, Evans seemed to perform quite well as a jump shooter on Sunday. During a free throw drill in which players took three shots before rotating to a different basket, Evans made his final nine attempts.
“I haven’t seen anyone do that, but to be quite honest, I think it looks 10,000 times better,” Badgers guard Ben Brust said. “He just looks so much more comfortable and confident. You can just see it in his face, so I think it will help him.”
Badgers guard Traevon Jackson noted he, too, had never seen a player attempt a jump shot as a technique for shooting free throws. The strangest method he recalled was when former NBA player Nick Van Exel shot free throws from the back of the circle, closer to the 3-point line.
“Hey, it’s legal so why not do it?” Jackson said.
Despite Evans’ foul shooting struggles, he has not allowed it to affect his aggressiveness during games. Evans is third on the team in scoring (10.3 points per game) and first in rebounds (7.6). He also has attempted 40 more free throws than any other player on the team.
“It’s one of those things with Ryan, it’s a mental thing I guess,” Bruesewitz said. “Something kind of went awry. Whatever helps him knock it down. If you can put it in the basket, you can put it in the basket. If it doesn’t look orthodox, well that’s OK because I don’t look orthodox. So it’s all right. I don’t look like a Division I basketball player. If he can knock down free throws that way, then I’m all for it.”
Evans played coy when asked if he would use the new method during Wisconsin’s home game against Nebraska on Tuesday night, calling it “a game-time decision.” But he is clearly willing to try anything to help solve the problem as Wisconsin prepares itself for the postseason next month.
“It’s something that’s a big part of my game,” Evans said. “I’d be a fool to say it hasn’t affected me throughout the season. It definitely has. But still looking to make that change and get things rolling again. I think if I get that part of my game back, there’s a lot to come.”