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A New Perspective: How Golf Has Taught Samme Givens February 13, 2012

Posted by Sam Angell in Golf, Men's Basketball.

So much of what makes an athlete successful is the ability to react and adapt; to change what it is that they do well and keep performing at a high level as circumstances require. In some instances, however, adaptability and flexibility are vices. One of those is a golf swing, particularly a putting motion. Another is a free throw in basketball. That is how Drexel head golf coach Mike Dynda came to assist senior men’s basketball standout Samme Givens become an even more reliable presence in the Dragons lineup.

‘When I have a player who needs work on his putting, you might think I’d change the mechanics to improve those guys,” Dynda remarked. “Sometimes they may need a little tweak here or there, but the reality is that making a change in learned motion requires repetition. Lots and lots of repetition.”

As the Philadelphia PGA Teacher of the Year and a skilled putter in his own right, Dynda knows what he is talking about. So after observing the Dragons at the free throw line, he decided it was time to see if he could help.

“I knocked on [men’s basketball head coach Bruiser Flint’s] door last January and asked if I could offer any help. Bru looked at my kind of funny at first when I told him that I had been videotaping his team at the line and had some data that would improve his team’s percentage, especially number 45.”

Number 45 was Givens, then a junior shooting 48 percent from the charity stripe. Flint responded that Samme did not have his elbow in the right place, and needed to correct his form. Dynda conceded that any mechanical adjustments were better left to the coaching staff, but Flint pressed on. If that was the case, he wondered, what could Coach Dynda offer to help?

“When I reviewed the video, I noticed that Samme did not have the same process for each free throw,” Dynda recalled. “Much like putting in golf, the player controls the ball and, for the most part, the time. There aren’t four hands in your face and people jumping around you. Time slows down. In putting, the pre-swing routine is just as important, if not more important, than the swing itself. I felt that the same was true for free throws.”

With Flint’s blessing, Dynda spoke with Associate Coach Mike Connors, showing him the video he had talked about with Flint.

“Sometimes he had three dribbles, others four,” Connors noted. “Sometimes he exhaled before a shot, others during. Coach Dynda was right on with his assessment of Samme’s process.”

With that as a starting point, Coach Connors took the advice to Samme, and the duo began working on Givens’ routine. The idea was to be efficient and identical on each and every free throw attempt, not only during games but also throughout practice sessions before, during and after the season.

“When the player controls the ball…man, that leaves a lot of time for demons to sneak in,” Dynda exclaimed. Developing a regular routine would help keep Givens and the rest of the Dragons focused, excluding external distractions and internal doubts.

For Givens, the lessons have paid off. The third-leading scorer on the team, Givens is averaging 12.0 points per game to help lead the Dragons to a 19-5 overall record and a spot atop the Colonial Athletic Association rankings. He has gone to the line a lot this season – 98 times, more than all but one of his teammates – and has hit 73.5 percent of his free throws. A full 3.0 points a game come from Givens at the line, crucial points for the Dragons as they look to close out close games in the league.

Givens’ numbers are up dramatically from last year, when he was a 52.9 percent free throw shooter, averaging just 2.4 points per game from the line. In fact, Givens has never finished higher than 59.1 percent from the free throw line in his career, a number he reached as a freshman when he was just 39-of-66 from the line.

Givens is not the only Dragon who has benefited from Dynda’s observations. As a team, the Dragons are hitting 73.7 percent from the line. Over the previous five years, the Dragons’ highest final number was just 68.6 percent in 2006-07, a year which saw them go 23-9 and earn a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. Drexel has its sights a little higher this season, and they’ll have to finish strong down the stretch to reach those goals. By sticking with the routine that has gotten them this far, they appear to be in good shape to do just that.