Jan. 21th, 2010 – Topeka Capital Journal
by Kevin Haskin
One day you start thumbing through the Guinness Book of World Records and look at the marks for free throw shooting.
What qualities must you possess? Calm nerves? Dead aim? Accurate stroke? Perfect form?
Yes to all of the above. But research into all the mechanics is also essential, perhaps as much as practice.
Bob Fisher of Centralia owns practically every book ever written about shooting.
Now, he also owns the record for most free throws made in one minute.
“His downstairs is like a library of basketball, with gadget books and more information than most public libraries have literature,” said Valley Heights girls coach Ryan Noel.
Results of Fisher’s instruction are what Noel can attest to first-hand. Fisher, 52, played for Centralia High School, where he graduated in 1975, and was formerly the head boys coach at Onaga and Axtell. He also coached at Nemaha Valley and Baileyville B&B before joining Noel’s staff this season. Shooters at Valley Heights have shown marked improvement in accuracy.
In turn, those players formed the assembly process used to help Fisher break the Guinness record. On Jan. 9, Fisher topped the mark by canning 50 free throws.
The effort, which came on the third of four tries by Fisher that day, broke the record of 48 set in 2001 by David Bergstrom of Sweden. Fisher needed 59 shots — only makes, not misses, matter on the timed Guinness count — during his record-setting flurry, though he fired 84 on his last attempt.
“I was just hitting the front of the rim by then,” Fisher said. “I was gassed.”
Everyone still celebrated. The Valley Heights team even posed for a group picture to commemorate the occasion.
As part of the certification process, however, Guinness required the event be filmed (it is up on YouTube), still photos be shot, and two respected witnesses be in attendance, along with an official referee, scorekeeper and timekeeper.
When you line up that many volunteers, you better promise some results.
“The number one thing was relief,” said Fisher, who is confident he can bump the record into the mid-50s. “It wasn’t, ‘I’m going to attempt.’ It was, ‘I will be setting a record.’ The old Joe Namath approach. So I was feeling pressure.
“There’s no doubt in my mind I can do better just because of that. I was hoping I could get it on the first attempt, just so the pressure would have been off. Then, I could have relaxed, had some fun, and said, ‘OK, let’s fire some up.”
Basketball shooting has long intrigued Fisher, who is a soil conservation technician by trade, working the last 22 years out of the USDA’s Seneca field office for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Guinness record for consecutive free throws made first captured Fisher’s interest.
His best attempt — yes, practice is a must, and prompted Fisher to spend many an evening at his old grade school gym in Vermillion — was 246 in a row. The record is 5,221 set by Ted St. Martin. That mark required 7 hours, 20 minutes.
“I don’t have that kind of time,” Fisher said. “I do have a little bit of a life.”
Attempting to break a record in 60 seconds flat introduced new variables — 49 by last count — into Fisher’s precision.
“The last few years I hadn’t done anything and in September, before I started (practicing), I was up to my all-time high weight-wise and I was terribly out of shape,” Fisher said. “I’m still not in great shape by any means. I don’t enjoy running. I do enjoy shooting a basketball and that’s about it.”
Shooting and studying.
Fisher met both St. Martin, and another record free thrower, Tom Amberry, and tapped their knowledge. Several books also influenced the techniques Fisher made into a 2008 video, most notably, “The Physics of Basketball,” written by John Fontanella.
“It wasn’t until this year that I do have a different mindset,” Fisher said. “I’m the only one I know that carries surveying equipment into the gym.”
Noel doesn’t mind. The angles Fisher calculates for proper shot release have eventually generated appreciable gains in the shooting percentages for both the girls and boys teams at Valley Heights.
“At first I thought, ‘Gosh, this is killing us,”‘ Noel said. “The first two weeks I was giving up 20 to 30 minutes of a practice. But our girls were very receptive. I was really pleased with that. Since then it’s just taken off. Most kids get five to 10 minutes in practice where Bob does some things with them.”
All for $1 — the compensation Fisher was offered, and accepted, as a Rule 10 assistant.
“Money’s never been an issue with me,” said Fisher, who lives about 30 miles east of the school. “Not that I’m rich, because I’m not. It’s always been my hobby and it’s what I enjoy doing, working with kids on their shooting.
“They paid me already and I’ve been over there enough times, I think they’ve gotten their money’s worth. …I’m far enough away that nobody knows me, and if you get far enough away from home, you’re an expert.”
Kevin Haskin can be reached at (785) 295-1159 and firstname.lastname@example.org.