If long-range shooting in basketball seems to be a dying art, there remains at least one defender of the faith.
Luther Whitsitt has sent two sons and countless gym rats onto the list of certified deadeye shooters in high schools, colleges and beyond.
But it seemed to him that at the start of every season it was back to square one because the players had developed bad habits over the summer or weren't in shape. When fatigue sets in, he reasoned, the more exacting skills--notably shooting--go first.
After years of experimenting, Whitsitt came up with the Emphasizer, a training device that not only can aid basketball shooting but also a tennis player's serve, a bicyclist's leg motion--even, Whitsitt is convinced, an elite sprinter's speed: any skill with a repetitive muscular motion.
Whitsitt, a San Pedro resident and a teacher in the L.A. Unified District, is a veteran of weekend shooting and skills clinics at the San Pedro Peninsula YMCA, as well as such summer undertakings as the Superstars Camp, John Wooden's basketball camps and the old Olympic Development League.
His sons, Novian and Damon, whom he put through rigorous shooting regimens, played at San Pedro High. Novian led the L.A. City in scoring (28 points per game) and played at Stanford, where he led the Pacific 10 in free throw percentage in 1984.
Whitsitt also holds individual shooting tutorials ranging from teen-agers and college athletes to NBA players trying to improve their shooting--including young stars Dennis Rodman and John Salley of the Detroit Pistons.
Whitsitt's trademarks are the high shooting arc--"Shoot a rainbow, shoot a rainbow"--and the quick release off the dribble or pass. He has multiple drills for these shots and came up with the Emphasizer to strengthen arm muscles used while shooting.
The Emphasizer is a light wraparound weight which can be easily worn around the wrist or leg. The padded weight is evenly dispersed over 12 inches. Unlike other wrist or leg weights, Whitsitt's invention is light enough--about one pound--to wear in practice or through a training routine.
"The idea is the repetitions, not the weight," he told young players before a recent workout. "The purpose is to give strength, dexterity and quickness. The main factor is (to increase) stamina so you don't lose your skills. The muscles on the arm work in concert, up through the elbow and shoulder. This (invention) emphasizes the movement of the muscle through the repetition."
Whitsitt wrapped Emphasizers around the arms of several young players, who shot awkwardly at first but then began shooting better. Once the wearer realizes the device isn't heavy enough to be a hindrance, Whitsitt said, he focuses on form.
Whitsitt has not yet marketed the Emphasizer, choosing instead to try it out with selected friends and pupils. More than a dozen NBA players are using it. His sons have successfully employed it, and one gave it to a tennis player at Stanford who found it useful in improving his serve. Whitsitt, an avid cyclist, uses it while riding and has tested it with friends walking around the neighborhood with good results. The Emphasizer received its U.S. patent number in June.
How far can it go? Whitsitt is willing to wager that a world-class sprinter like Carl Lewis could cut one-tenth to two-tenths of a second off his time by training with the Emphasizer for four to six weeks. "I'd put money on it," he said.
Meanwhile, it's making basketball accuracy less of a shot in the dark.