Watch the Wolverines unveil banners for the Big Ten tournament title and Final Four appearance, before the opener against Norfolk State, Nov. 6, 2018.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Michigan basketball coach John Beilein is a well-known fan of the St. Louis Cardinals.
During his recovery from double bypass heart surgery this past summer, Beilein spent quite some time watching the team.
Now, he’s using a lesson learned from former Cardinals pitcher Bob Tewksbury to help improve the Wolverines’ free-throw shooting through psychology.
“We just did some visualization with a psychologist, with a couple of the guys,” Beilein said Friday afternoon. “It is probably more mental than it is physical. And we just have to try to get through that right now. They’ve been using different breathing and everything to get themselves more relaxed.”
Tewksbury, who pitched six seasons for St. Louis and is currently a mental skills coach for the San Francisco Giants, didn’t throw as hard as some of his contemporaries. But he had good control, and as described in his book, “Ninety Percent Mental,” he was able to use techniques such as mental imagery to succeed on the mound.
“There’s a great book by Bob Tewksbury, former Cardinal, right now that is incredible about how he used imagery to become a very good pitcher throwing 88-mile-an-hour fastballs,” Beilein said Friday afternoon. “I think he walked one batter a game for the whole season. But it was a lot of mental imagery out there. We believe in it.”
Last year, Michigan shot just 66 percent from the free-throw line. In Tuesday’s season opener, the Wolverines missed often, finishing 13-of-29 (44.8 percent) from the line.
When Beilein went back and watched film, he noticed several recurring issues. Junior center Jon Teske, who made 3-of-6 free throws, “was moving back when he shot the ball.” Redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews, who went 0-for-5, “was flicking it out a little bit.”
“It’s just like hitting,” Beilein said. “You will change your shot and you don’t even know it’s happening. You just get comfortable with doing something, you make a few and then it continues to sway.
“If you drop your hands a little bit in baseball, you might be okay. You’re dropping them a lot, you’ll never catch up with the ball.”
Despite the poor performance against Norfolk State, the Wolverines haven’t changed their approach and don’t appear likely to do so in the near future.
Beilein was surprised by the poor foul shooting, and thinks it will ‘come back to the norm.’ He has been pleased with the overall numbers, which have been culled from practices, Michigan’s secret scrimmage against Toledo and exhibition against Northwood. According to Beilein, Matthews shot 10-of-12 from the line against Toledo and Northwood, and there was ‘nothing indicating’ that he would go 0-for-5 against Norfolk State.
So for now, Michigan will stay the course, working on free throws after practice in different situations and heeding Tewksbury’s lessons.
Beilein himself doesn’t know the details of the process — which is what he wants.
“I wasn’t privy to what they went through, and I try to stay away from that too,” Beilein said. “I’m so much on them about their form, how they’re landing, their release and all that, that at that point, I don’t need to get into that world.”
If the visualization doesn’t work? Well, Beilein is already thinking about the team’s next option.
“We’re trying everything,” Beilein said. “Hypnosis might be next.”
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.