This week marks the kick off of the 2015 – 2016 NBA season, but the best free-throw shooter in professional basketball isn’t in the NBA. In fact, she’ll be in Delaware, preparing to run a young girls’ camp. That’s right: WNBA Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne won the league’s MVP award of the season, sinking almost every single one of her free-throw attempts.
Elena, who was recently profiled by the Wall Street Journal, has numbers that are impressive all around the board: an average 23.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and two blocked shots per game, with 207 of her 218 free-throw attempts hit. That means she has a 95% success rate. Only three other players in ABA, NBA, and WNBA — Calvin Murphy, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and Ray Allen — have shot 95% or better.
Want to be a rad free-thrower? Well, you can start by trying out Elena’s formula for success, which she’s got down pat, she told WSJ: Look for the dot that marks the middle of the free-throw line, line up your right foot with the dot, bounce the ball three times, place your index finger on the ball’s air pinhole, bend your knees slightly, and make an L-shape with your shooting arm. “From there I just lift and flick, and a little bit of ankle pop,” she told WSJ. “[And] I actually just tell myself, ‘It’s going in.’ Every single time.” And almost every single time, it does.
It’s a method that she adopted at the suggestion of her coach, Delaware math teacher Steven Johson, when she was just a pre-teen. “I’m not a special person, I’m not a special coach,” Johnson told the WSJ. “Elena just trusted me completely and she wasn’t afraid to make a mistake. All we tried to do is reduce her motion to as few movements as possible.” But all credit can’t be given to Johnson, and it’s certainly not something that happened overnight. It took ages of persistence and hard work to nail down her technique. “It was horrific for probably a good year,” she told the WSJ. “I kept saying to him, ‘Are you sure? I’m awful now.’”
But her dedication paid off, and she set a girl’s national high school record. Now, she uses free-throws to relax. “When I’m in the gym and I’m resting, that’s when I shoot foul shots,” she told WSJ. “It’s not a ton. It’s kind of like an art and you get it down and that’s it.”
In fact, Elena believes she’s already got past the most stressful moment of her basketball career. That moment came when she was 12, and she sank two free throws to tie a game with just 0.1 seconds on the clock in the national Amateur Athletic Union basketball championships, allowing her team to go on to win the game and then the national girls title. “In my mind nothing will be as bad as that,” Elena told WSJ. “The pressure will never get there again.”
Elena’s talent, coupled with her decades of pure and unfettered dedication, make her a true basketball hero. And one thing’s for sure: Elena totally rocks, both on and off the court.
(Images via Twitter, Instagram.)