Inside the NCAA
March 28, 2013
A Dying Art Gets a Rare Exhibition
By PAT BORZI
INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s get this straight: that hook shot Duke’s Mason Plumlee used against Albany in the second round of the N.C.A.A. tournament was not a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky hook. Close, but not quite.
Plumlee is 6 feet 10 inches, and his locked-elbow extension comes up a few inches shy of Abdul-Jabbar’s unstoppable, right-handed signature move that carried him to an N.B.A.-record 38,387 points.
“We call it a running hook,” said the Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski, who coaches the Blue Devils’ post players. “We don’t specifically say we’re trying to teach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook. It’s very similar.”
Still, so few college players shoot hook shots anymore that it is hard to distinguish one type from another. Albany Coach Will Brown said he never saw a player even attempt a hook shot in his 12 seasons with the Great Danes until last Friday, when Plumlee hit three running hook shots and scored 23 points in Duke’s 73-61 victory.
“Plumlee did the best Kareem Abdul-Jabbar imitation I’ve seen in a long time,” Brown said in a postgame news conference.
That Duke and Michigan State, who meet Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in a Midwest Region semifinal, are among the few programs still teaching the hook shot adds to the matchup of the extremely successful coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo.
“It’s an unguardable shot if you can shoot it,” Michigan State’s associate head coach, Dwayne Stephens, said. “I don’t know why more kids don’t shoot it.”
The modern emphasis on drive-and-dish perimeter shooting over traditional post play makes someone like Plumlee stand out.
Hal Wissel, who taught the hook shot for decades as a college coach and an N.B.A. assistant before opening a basketball school with his sons Scott and Paul in Suffield, Conn., places blame on college coaches who spend too much time recruiting and not enough time instructing.
“The game is overcoached and undertaught,” Wissel said. “That’s the single best answer. If you go to the N.B.A. pre-draft camp in Chicago, very few of the players have any post-up ability. I watch the drills. They’ll put the ball on the floor, they will travel, and no one is correcting them.”
Wojciechowski says the tendency to shy away from hook shots starts long before college.
“A lot of kids want to play facing the basket, even tall kids,” he said. “Very few kids grow up dreaming about being back-to-the-basket players.
“A lot of the systems in college now are pick-and-roll systems where guys are catching it in the post on the move, instead of catching it with their back to the basket and having to make a move.”
Stephens, who also played at Michigan State, said he taught the hook as a nod to his former coach Jud Heathcote, who insisted every player, regardless of position, master a hook shot with either hand. So Celtics fans can blame Heathcote for the running hook Magic Johnson flipped over Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to win Game 4 of the 1987 N.B.A. finals for the Lakers.
Stephens said that forwards Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix could shoot a hook, but that they were not keen on it.
“Those guys don’t think that shot is fashionable,” Stephens said. “You equate it with Kareem shooting a roll hook — that’s what we call it — or a sky hook, whatever you want to call it. They think it’s an old-school move, and they’d rather shoot a jump hook or turnaround jump shot.”
Plumlee had no such hesitation when he started working on it several years ago.
“I’m not overpowering,” the 230-pound Plumlee said. “I play against guys who are 250-plus. I can’t just back people all the way under the rim. So I have to have something I can go to and use touch and shoot over people.
“I think really at the end of last year, I felt like it was more of a go-to move for me.”
The hook has helped Plumlee average 17.2 points a game, just behind guard Seth Curry’s team-leading 17.3, and post the nation’s sixth-best field-goal percentage (.598). He leads the Blue Devils with 10 rebounds a game and has 67 assists, more than any Duke player who is not a guard.
“The game has changed, and that’s why for us, having a low-post player like Mason is so valuable,” Wojciechowski said. “He’s a guy who not only can score with his back to the basket, but he’s one of our best passers. When he is double-teamed, he can make the right pass out of a double. That’s rare in today’s day and age.”
Stephens said he did not see the hook shot making a revival.
“Dwight Howard shoots one every now and then, but he’s not as good at it,” he said. “Until you see a really popular or high-profile big guy shooting it, I don’t think the kids will start to shoot it.”
For now, Plumlee offers a glimpse of a lost art, fitting for a cultural anthropology major.
“Let’s bring it back in style,” Plumlee said with a smile.