Onuaku's Granny-Style Free Throws and Top 2016 Shooter Among USA U19 Buzz

Jason King@@JasonKingBRSenior Writer, B/R MagJune 23, 2015

SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 27:  Chinanu Onuaku #32 of the Louisville Cardinals looks on against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the East Regional Semifinal of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Carrier Dome on March 27, 2015 in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When Chinanu Onuaku stepped to the foul line during a recent scrimmage, his teammates on USA Basketball's U19 squad seemed perplexed.

"Is he being serious right now?" Isaiah Briscoe whispered to Allonzo Trier as the guards took their position near the basket.

Wing Terrance Ferguson was a bit more vocal as he motioned toward an official. "Timeout! Timeout!" Ferguson said before glaring at Onuaku. "What are you doing?"

It was a peculiar sight, to be sure.

Instead of using traditional form, the 6’10”, 230-pound forward from Louisville placed one palm on each side of the ball and held it in front of his waist before hoisting an underhanded free throw that swished through the net.

Often referred to as "granny style," the shot is used almost exclusively by elementary-aged kids who aren't strong enough to get the ball to the basket using a normal shooting form.

Onuaku, though, plans to shoot "granny style" from the foul line all season after making just under 47 percent of his free throws as a freshman in 2014-15.

Onuaku works on his form at the foul line.
Onuaku works on his form at the foul line.Credit: Jason King

"I've never seen it in the college game," said Arizona's Sean Miller, who is coaching the U19 squad. "It's a really soft shot. He has a better chance of making them that way."

Onuaku will debut the shot in a game at the FIBA U19 World Championship June 27-July 5 in Heraklion (Crete), Greece. But he's actually been practicing it since the spring, when Louisville coach Rick Pitino showed Onuaku a video of Rick Barry, an NBA Hall of Famer who made nearly 90 percent of his free shows shooting underhanded. Barry's son, Canyon, who plays for the College of Charleston, also shoots underhanded.

Frustrated with his performance from the foul stripe, Onuaku said he was willing to try anything to improve.

"When Rick Pitino tells you to do something," Miller said, "it's probably a good idea to listen. He doesn't care how it looks. He just wants it to go in. That says a lot about him."

Indeed, the same teammates who snickered a bit when they first saw Onuaku shoot "granny style" aren't laughing anymore.

"Hey," Briscoe said, "if it's going in, you can't knock his hustle."

Other thoughts from the U19 training camp 

• Ferguson, a rising high school senior from Dallas, evoked a few oohs and aahs during an evening session last week. Not because he made a shot, but because he missed one. Throughout the entirety of the camp, no player was as hot from long range as Ferguson. Miller estimated Tuesday that Ferguson had made 80 percent of his three-point attempts in both scrimmages.

"He's the best shooter in the Class of 2016," said ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla as he watched a scrimmage from the sideline. "But he's so long and athletic and active, too. He can help a team in a lot of ways."

The fifth-ranked player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, Ferguson has taken unofficial visits to Baylor, Kansas, Louisville and Arizona and is planning more visits for later this summer. He said he doesn't have a leader.

• Being part of the U19 team isn't just tough on the players. It's challenging for a coach, too.

"As a coach, you grow a lot," Miller said. "You're challenged with playing a different style than we'd play at Arizona. You're formulating a team and dealing with a lot of young guys you have to teach to play together, all in a couple of weeks."

One glaring difference between the U19 team and Miller's Arizona squad is that the U19 team will often employ a press during its time in Greece. Miller's Arizona teams rarely press.

• It was a bit of a surprise when San Diego State's Malik Pope was one of five players cut when the roster was trimmed from 21 to 16 players Wednesday. Some NBA scouts predicted that Pope, who averaged 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman, would've been a first-round pick in this summer's NBA draft had he chosen to leave school early. The 6'10" Pope broke his leg as both a junior and senior in high school and is still attempting to get back to full strength.

Thomas Welsh
Thomas WelshAndy Lyons/Getty Images

• With three double-figure scorers (Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Tony Parker) returning, UCLA should enter the 2015-16 campaign as a fringe Top 25 team. The Bruins, though, could become a mainstay in the rankings if center Thomas Welsh shows the flashes of brilliance he routinely displayed during the U19 training camp.

The 7-foot Welsh, who averaged 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman last season, made the final 12-man roster and will benefit greatly from international competition. It's never been a secret that Welsh has a nice touch on his shot. It's his physicality in the paint and his moves around the basket that have improved significantly.

• Davidson's Bob McKillop was one of the coaches who helped put players through workouts before the first round of cuts Wednesday. At that point, Miller, Ed Cooley (Providence) and Archie Miller (Dayton) took full control of the team. McKillop coached Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry at Davidson and attended Game 2 of the NBA Finals. He was asked about his current relationship with Curry, who earned league MVP honors this season.

"The most enjoyable experience for me is to see him have such a magnificent season and experience," McKillop said. "He hasn't changed. He's the MVP off the court as well. He's continued to feel a part of Davidson, but that's him.

Mel Evans/Associated Press

"Most people that interacted with him at Davidson feel the same way. We're Golden State Warriors fans. There's no doubt about that."

McKillop said Davidson fans went wild during the NBA playoffs.

"The first playoff game on a Thursday night, they had a watch party at a pub that's always been the postgame gathering spot [for Davidson fans]," McKillop said. "It was packed wall-to-wall with people with Golden State and Davidson jerseys. People that watched us during Steph's days were like, 'This is exactly how it was during the Elite Eight run [in 2008].'"

Asked how often he speaks with Curry, McKillop said: "We'll text more than we'll call. The amount of texts and phone calls he gets, I'm very sensitive to that. I don't want him to think I'm trying to tell him stuff after a game, where he's like, 'Are you worried? Do you think I should do this or that?' I don't want him thinking like that.

"I want him to be who he is. We're at a point where texts just happen, not just because he had a good or bad game, but because there's a relationship there."

Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.


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