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News » After practice, the game begins

After practice, the game begins

After practice, the game begins
D.J. White swishes a free throw, leaps into the air and screams as if he's drained a game-winner with :00 on the clock at the Ford Center.

But this is practice. Nick Collison lumbers over and shakes White's hand.

White, a rookie, hasn't suited up for the Thunder all season, sidelined by jaw surgery. He still hasn't been cleared to practice. But every player on the roster participates in coach Scott Brooks' post-practice free-throw contest.

Each day, Brooks pits one player against another in a one-on-one competition. Players receive two points for a swish, one for a made free throw that touches the rim. They alternate shots. First one to 21 wins.

"It makes it really competitive," said Desmond Mason. "You're not just out there shooting free throws. You're playing for your own personal record and bragging rights."

A dry erase board on the far wall of the team's practice facility tracks the standings. Matchups change each day. Players that win their daily post-practice contest earn one "point."

Kevin Durant won the post-practice free-throw contest in December. Earl Watson, with eight wins in January, leads this month.

Jeff Green said losing to Robert Swift, and one of the team's trainers, was tough-to-swallow but said the daily competition has benefits.

"It forces us to focus on our free throws," Green said. "Free throws are big. No matter when you miss them (in a game) they can bite you later in the game. What coach does in practice helps. No one wants to lose. You don't want somebody running their mouth."

Most coaches, on every level, require players to shoot extra free throws. Some require 100 made free throws before a player can leave. Brooks uses the monthly contest to motivate players.

"It makes it a lot of fun," said Russell Westbrook. "Free throws can win games. This month, I'm right there (in the standings). I plan to come back and win."

Oklahoma City is 16th in the league in free-throw shooting (76.2).

Free throws aren't Brooks' only avenue to force players to compete. He often puts three minutes on the scoreboard for a late-practice scrimmage. The winning team doesn't have to run extra wind sprints.

Other players, on their own, compete in left-handed games of HORSE, half-court shooting or other competitions.

"This team has great camaraderie. Those type of things keep the energy level up," Collison said. "It's still Basketball, which is good. But it's also like a game within itself. You get into that little segment of practice where you're not concentrating on the big scheme of things."

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: January 24, 2009


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