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Coach Vic's Court: Improving Your Jump Shot!

Coach Vic Pruden's involvement in basketball spans more than forty years, with twenty-five years as an active coach at the high school, club, provincial, university and national levels. Improve your jump shot with his help.
Coach Vic Pruden's involvement in basketball spans more than 40 years, with 25 years as an active coach at the high school, club, provincial, university and national levels and always as a student of the game. His coaching record has been highly successful, with an overall win/loss record of more than .700.

Vic inaugurated both the men's and women's intercollegiate basketball programs at the University of Winnipeg, winning six out of seven conference championships and competing in the national finals twice with the women's team.

Another highlight of Vic's coaching career included two years working with junior age elite athletes, identifying and developing potential players for Canada's National Women's team. Bev Smith, the current Canadian national team coach, was one of those players.

His commitment to studying the game resulted in a book, "A Conceptual Approach To Basketball", which was published by Human Kinetics in Champaign, Illinois, in 1985. More recently, Vic developed a 4-on-4 developmental game, based on his book, for boys and girls under 13. He continues to work with coaches and individual players.

Now, learn tips and techniques for improving your jump shot, both set and off the dribble...

The Basic Jump Shot

Here is an exercise that will help you learn to shoot the jumper, the most effective shot in basketball. It is for all ages. However, boys and girls under 13 should use a smaller ball and the basket should be lower (8 ft. 6 in.). The exercise is in two parts, Getting Set and Shooting. There are three parts to getting set: the body stance, the ball/hand relationship and the ball/body relationship. The moment you are set, you are ready to shoot.

This skill is particularly difficult to describe in words, and takes much longer to describe than to execute! Just take your time and go through it step by step, creating your own mental picture. Each time you shoot, try and determine how closely your shot matches that mental picture.

Getting Set

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Stand 2 or 3 feet directly in front of the basket. Assume a jumping stance. Your feet are shoulder-width apart, and parallel to each other; one foot is slightly ahead of the other (you should learn to shoot with either foot forward). The knees are flexed. Although both feet are entirely in contact with the court, almost your entire body weight should be on the balls of the feet and distributed equally on both feet. Your shoulders should be square to the basket and slightly ahead of your hips, which should be directly over the mid point of your feet. Your head should be erect.

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Hold the ball in two hands, in front of you, close to the body, and just above waist level. The fingers and thumbs of both hands point directly away from you; keep the elbows in. The hands should be on the top half of the ball; The complete inner surface of the hands should be in contact with the ball. The fingers and thumbs of each hand are spread comfortably. The distances separating the fingers and the thumbs should be the same. The forefingers should be parallel to each other. To hold the ball, push both hands toward its centre to create enough pressure to hold it.

To establish fingertip control, apply gentle, but firm pressure with the pads of your fingers, that is, the area between the tips of the fingers and thumbs and the first joint. Applying this pressure creates a paper-thin air space along the fingers, thumbs, and palms, starting at the first joint and ending at the heel of the hand. Cock the wrists, making sure they are relaxed, so you can easily cock and uncock them in a full range of motion. (To cock your wrists, bring the back of the hands toward the body. Do not lock your wrists!)

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Move the ball to the point above and in front of your head from which you will shoot. You must be able to see the basket under the ball. As you raise the ball, rotate your shooting hand so that it is directly behind and under the ball by the time it reaches shooting position. As you rotate the shooting hand, which controls the ball, the non-shooting hand slides over the ball, ending to the side and slightly under the ball. The non-shooting hand takes no part in the shot. Its job is to help hold and protect the ball until the moment the shooting action begins.

Hold the ball as high as possible. The higher you hold the ball, the taller you become. Ideally, there should be only a slight bend in the elbow of the shooting arm, particularly when you are close to the basket. Keep the ball directly in front of you. Looking from the side, one should see that the forearm is vertical, so that the wrist is directly over the elbow. From the front, the elbow of the shooting hand should be directly in front of or slightly inside the shoulder, never outside. Now you are in SET POSITION.


Your shooting action begins the moment you are in set position. Shooting is a 1-piece action in which you quickly jump and uncock the wrist. This quick jumping action generates most of the power for the shot. The feet barely leave the floor. As the hand comes forward and the wrist is uncocked, the ball immediately begins to rise up on the fingertips. Quick wrist action and fingertip control give a crisp backspin to the ball.

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For maximum control of the ball, it should come off the tips of the forefinger and middle finger. To transfer power from the legs to the ball, release the ball just as, or just before, you complete your jumping action. Make sure the ball leaves the fingertips before the arm straightens in follow through.

As the shooting arm straightens in follow through, the wrist should end up only slightly ahead of the elbow, which should not be tightly locked. The hand will have completed its full range of motion from being cocked back to being crisply snapped forward. Throughout the entire shooting action, keep your eyes focused on a spot on the back of the rim directly opposite you; stay relaxed so all the joints, particularly the wrist of the shooting hand, move easily.

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The farther you are from the basket, the more power you need. To get more power, increase the flex or bend in the knees. If necessary, you can lower the shooting position of the ball, but never so low that you cannot see the basket from under the ball. When you get to a distance from the basket at which you begin to force the shot, you have reached the limit of your shooting range.

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When shooting, you can make yourself taller by jumping higher. However, in doing so, you will not be able to get as much power from your legs. So, you should jump high only when you are fairly close to the basket. Again, it is very important that you release the ball as or just before you reach the peak of your jump. Falling or fading away as you shoot will result in a great loss of power. You should not attempt learning the fade-away until you have mastered the basic jump shot. Usually only gifted athletes are able to become proficient at this shot.

Each time you shoot a free throw, you practice the basic shot. The only difference between the basic jump shot and most other shots in basketball is footwork. For example, how do you stop and get set after receiving a pass on the run or after ending a drive? These situations will be topics for future tips.

Shooting Off The Dribble

Having learned the basic jump shot, you need to be able to execute it immediately, after receiving a pass while cutting or after ending a drive.

The most effective way to do this is to use a front stop - a move that causes you to stop quickly, even when you are moving fast, and lets you square up to the basket, when necessary.

In order to stop quickly when moving at high speed, you need to able to "slam on the brakes." Doing this involves selecting the foot you want to establish as your pivot, or "brake foot."

As your brake foot comes forward, push off the other foot and quickly extend, with a "lunging action," the brake foot just beyond the distance of your longest walking stride.

During this lunging action, keep the heel of the lunge foot just slightly above the court, until the heel contacts the court. As the heel contacts the court, the upper body (hips and shoulders) moves forward. As the lunging foot passes the brake foot, bring it up to complete the jumping stance for the jump shot.

Follow these steps to practice the movement pattern of the front stop.

Watch The Drill On Video, Choose Either: Step 1:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet can be square or one foot can be slightly ahead of the other. The knees are flexed (slightly bent). Your body weight is equally distributed over both feet. Your hips should be directly over both feet, with your shoulders directly over your hips. Your head is erect.

Step 2:

If you are right-handed, establish your left foot as the pivot foot (vice-versa for lefties). Take a normal step forward with your right foot and bring your left foot forward, executing the movement pattern of the front stop, described above. After several repetitions, repeat the exercise, establishing your right foot as the pivot foot.

Moving directly to the basket: To execute a front stop when moving directly toward the basket, you can choose either foot as the pivot foot.

Very often, you will be moving at an angle to the basket. The front stop enables you to stop and square up to the basket in one move.

To do this, as you execute the front-stop movement pattern, rotate the brake foot directly toward the basket. As it makes contact with the floor, the rest of your body will follow; and, as the lunging foot comes in contact with the floor, you will be in your jumping stance, square to the basket.

When moving at an angle to the basket, always use the foot closest to the basket as the pivot (brake) foot.

Follow these steps to help stop and square up for your shot.

Watch The Drill On Video, Choose Either: Step 1:
Square up to a target, such as the basket or wall. Then, if you are right-handed, turn 90 degrees to the right.

Step 2:
Using the left foot, which is closest to the wall or basket you originally faced, as the brake foot, execute the front-stop movement pattern described above. As you complete the front stop, you should be square to the target which you selected and ready to execute the basic jump shot.

Step 3:
After several repetitions, turn 90 degrees to the left from the target. Using your right foot as the brake foot, repeat Step 2.

When you end a cut: To establish your brake foot as the pivot foot, you must catch the ball as the brake foot contacts the court or immediately after.

When you end a drive: To establish your brake foot as the pivot foot, you must end your dribble as the brake foot contacts the court or immediately after.

Beware of traveling: Should you catch the ball or end your dribble while the brake foot is in the air, the referees will likely signal a traveling violation, particularly if the rear foot (the push off foot) is still on the court. In this situation, bringing the rear foot up to establish a jumping stance is a traveling violation. (Refer to my tip, Establishing a pivot foot)

Here's a drill to practice shooting after receiving a pass.

Watch The Drill On Video, Choose Either: Step 1:
Within comfortable shooting distance, stand directly in front of the basket. Using that distance as the radius of an arc whose center is the basket, move along that arc from baseline to baseline.

Step 2:
Have another player pass you the ball. When moving along the arc, always use the foot closest to the basket as the brake foot when you catch the ball. For example, when moving to the left, use your right foot and use your left, when moving to the right.

Step 3:
The exercise starts when you start to move along the arc. As soon as you move, the person with the ball passes to you. After you shoot, do not move until the person has control of the ball (gets the ball when you miss or score) and is ready to pass.

Step 4:
If you are alone, you can still do the same exercise. Toss the ball to the right or left of your location on the arc, catch it in the air or let it bounce before you catch it.

Here's an exercise to practice shooting after ending a drive.

Watch The Drill On Video, Choose Either: Step 1:
Stand directly in front of the basket near the center line of the court. Execute a drive to either the left or right side of the restraining circle of the key.

Step 2:
If to the right, dribble with your right hand. Your left foot will be the brake foot. If you are driving to the left, dribble with your left hand, and your right foot will be the break foot.

Step 3:
As you approach your shooting range, execute a front stop and shoot.

Step 4:
You can do the same exercise from a forward (wing) position, first on one half and then on the other half of the court. When driving baseline from the right side of the court, use your right hand to dribble and your left foot as the brake foot. When driving the middle, use your left hand and your right foot.


Thanks for stopping by, good luck on your improvement, and continue to check in to read about more tips and techniques from Coach Vic's Court!

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