In my second year at RIC we had a big game early in the season at Tufts who was ranked in the Top 10 in the national polls. We were still trying to establish ourselves as a player on the national level. We played at Tufts in their tip-off tournament.
We had the lead late in the game with about a minute to go when our sophomore forward Kaseem Johnson got a defensive rebound and got fouled hard, going to the floor. He stayed on the ground holding his wrist.
As Kaseem lay on the ground I asked one of the officials if I could go out to make sure he was okay, and the official told me that I could, but if I did he would have to come out of the game. Knowing that Kaseem wasn’t a very good free throw shooter, I quickly walked onto the floor to see if he was okay. As soon as I did, Bob Sheldon, the Tufts coach, started yelling to the refs “He’s gotta come out. He’s gotta come out!” I looked at him and smiled.
Kaseem’s wrist was okay, he just needed a little bit of a breather. He had to come out of the game, so I put Cam Stewart, who was my best shooter, into the game for Kaseem. Cam made both free throws, and I put a big sub at the table to sub in for Cam after the second free throw (Kaseem couldn’t go back in until time ran off the clock, so I had to use another post sub). We finished out the game and got a huge win on the road against a Top 10 team.
That’s a good example how if you get to know the rule book well enough you can sometimes use it to your advantage. At the time, if a player came out of a game due to an injury, you got to choose the sub for him to shoot the free throws. So you could put your best shooter in off the bench to shoot foul shots if a kid got hurt. So it made sense to go out on the floor if a bad shooter went down, and on the flip side to make sure you didn’t go out on the floor too quickly if a good shooter got hurt.
The rule has since changed, which takes away the advantage from the offensive team. Now if one of your players gets hurt (and it’s not a flagrant foul) your opponent gets to choose the free throw shooter, and they have to choose from the four players left on the floor. So you can’t manipulate the shooter the same way you used to. However, if your worst free throw shooter gets hurt and he’s headed to the foul line, it makes sense to get out on the floor early and take him out.
On the other side, you also want to make sure your trainer doesn’t go out on the floor too quickly.
I was watching Miami and Fresno State today and Miami had a 1-point lead with a minute to go when one of their best guards got fouled hard going to the hoop. It looked like he crashed into a press table, and he stayed down for a second. Miami’s trainer came off the bench immediately to help him up, and he turned out to be okay, and was fine to stay in the game. But because the trainer had gone out to help him, he had to come out of the game, and now Fresno State got to choose another Miami player who was on the floor to shoot the free throws. They put a 56% free throw shooter at the line, and he made 1-2. Miami did go on to win on a dunk at the buzzer.
It may sound a little dumb, until you end up in that situation. You should make sure that your trainer doesn’t immediately go out on the floor as soon as someone goes down. The player might be fine, but you are still forced to sub. It’s a conversation that is worth having with your training staff.
It also makes sense to think about how you can use the rules to your advantage. If you know you have one key player who’s not a good free throw shooter, get out on the floor quickly if he goes down with an injury. You may also want to talk to that player about staying down for a minute when he gets hurt. It may help get you a better free throw shooter to the line in a crucial situation.