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Wizards' Hopla shoots, teaches

January 13, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — It seems safe to say he owns the highest shooting percentages of anyone on an NBA payroll.

Even Gilbert Arenas wouldn't dare challenge him to a 3-point contest.

Washington Wizards assistant coach Dave Hopla is a 6-foot bundle of energy with graying temples, a slight paunch and a rat-a-tat-tat patter. He also can put the basketball in the hoop, over and over and over again.

"I'm an out-of-shape, 50-year-old guy," he says proudly, "but give me an open shot, and I'm going to knock it down."

And here's the truly unique part: He has the notebooks to prove it. About 50 of them, going back decades. Most are stored in the garage at his home in Maine, but he totes the current pair everywhere -- the green, leatherbound one to chart his workouts, and the black-and-white composition book to chart his shooting at speaking engagements.

So Hopla can tell you, for example, that he made 99.2 percent of his free throws (11,093 out of 11,183) and 92.5 percent of his college-distance 3-pointers (260 out of 281) while delivering lectures in 2007. Yes, that's how well he shoots while talking.

He can tell you he once made 1,234 free throws in a row and reached 1,065 another time. His personal record for consecutive NBA 3s is 78.

When he was 16, at the urging of a coach whose name is lost to history, Hopla began tracking every shot. He records makes and misses and other details, such as position on the floor and how many minutes it took to reach a certain number of baskets.

Why? Because he figures that if one's attitude is, "Who's counting?" then, well, what's the point of doing anything, really? If you undertake a task, the thinking goes, you should want to be as good as possible at it. Perfect, in fact.

He tells his pupils it's not enough to try to make every shot. They should try to swish every shot.

"I'm addicted, to shooting and to the numbers. They go hand in hand," Hopla says in a recent interview, a few days after making 25 3s in a row after a team practice. "I want to see myself getting better. You shoot the ball correctly, you want to shoot it better than anyone else in the world. To know for sure, you've got to write it down."

That dedication -- obsession? -- helped him become a remarkably good shooter and a respected instructor, someone who has worked with dozens of players around the NBA.

It also helped Hopla earn a full-time gig with the Wizards after serving as a consultant to the Toronto Raptors last season, following years of working at basketball camps and time as an assistant coach at a community college in Baltimore.

Hopla's official title in the Wizards' media guide? Assistant coach/player development. His unofficial titles? Shooting coach. Shooting guru. Shot doctor.

"I just call myself a basketball coach. Teacher. Coach. Teacher of shooting," he says, somewhat Yoda-like, then pauses while searching for just the right phrase.

"Teacher of life," Hopla continues, satisfied. "I think I bring a little bit more to the table than shooting a basketball."

He has two business cards, one from the Wizards, the other from his work as a motivational speaker to companies and kids. That second card touts his "Shooting for S.U.C.C.E.S.S." philosophy, which stands for "sacrifice, unselfishness, character, commitment, excellence, standards in someone."

Like several other players around the league, Arenas was about 12 or 13 when he first met Hopla at a camp.

"He changed my shot. Made me a better shooter, mechanics-wise, timing-wise," the three-time All-Star says. "I used to have a really slow release. It was butter, but it was really slow. He changed that up for me, made me more of a defined shooter."

And why was Arenas willing to listen to Hopla way back when? Because Hopla introduced himself to the group by shooting.

"He made, like, 90-something in a row from college 3. I was amazed," Arenas recalls, eyes wide. "I was just, like, 'Whaaaa? Forget this dunkin' stuff. I want to shoot like that.'"

Arenas also remembers one of Hopla's teaching tools, "Hand in Face." It's a cardboard cutout in the shape of a hand, attached to the brim of a baseball cap to mimic a defender. Arenas went home and made his own.

There's more where that came from.

"Manute Pole" is a broomstick used to simulate a tall-as-a-skyscraper opponent. "The Silent Partner" is a giant head-and-shoulders of foam used to make players work on finishing and getting the ball over a defender. Gardening gloves can help with ballhandling.

And then there are all of Hopla's little sayings, some to do with life, others to do with hoops. "Simple stuff for simple minds." "Three Ts: toe, tack, target. That tack on the free-throw line is at the center of the basket." "Make shots, not excuses." "Good passes precede good shots." "Your foundation is your footwork." "Always challenge yourself."

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