HELENA — Carroll College senior forward Matt Wyman doesn’t mind attacking the rim.
Even if he misses the shot, he knows there will be a chance he could get fouled.
At the free-throw line, his confidence grows even more.
Eleven games into his senior season, Wyman is shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line, a place he hasn’t necessarily always been comfortable with.
“I was a 55 percent free-throw shooter while in high school,” Wyman said with a smile.
Soon after he arrived at Carroll, former Saints coach Carson Cunningham taught him a method to improve his percentage.
“He taught us the Valpo Method,” Wyman said.
The Valpo method was created by Virgil Sweet, a hall of fame high school basketball coach from Valparaiso, Indiana. He coached from 1954-1974, and as part of a fundamentals presentation during his interview process, he pitched his method for making free throws on a consistent basis.
“You want most of your weight on your front foot. You want to get balanced, stay steady and hold your follow through,” Wyman said. “That’s basically it.”
Sweet’s method became so successful that his 1963-64 team shot 79.2 percent, setting the high school team national record. One of his players, Mike Cooper, also stayed in the gym during lunch one day and made 409 consecutive free throws.
But Wyman wasn’t the only player from Carroll to benefit from the Valpo Method. Over the last three seasons, the Saints, as a whole, finished as the nation’s best free-throw shooting team, making 80.6 percent of their shots.
Senior Match Burnham has been an 83 percent free-throw shooter over his three-plus seasons at Carroll and has reaped the benefits of dedicating extra time at the line.
“It’s huge for us,” Burnham said. “Carson recruited a lot of guys that could shoot free throws and we practiced a lot of free throws. We have won a lot of games and we take a lot of pride in that.”
Cunningham left Carroll last season after he accepted a job as coach for NCAA Division I University Incarnate Word in San Antonio, but his teachings and the dedication to free throws never left the PE Center.
Carroll still leads the nation in free throws, shooting 83 percent with five players shooting 85 percent or better.
“It’s a mentality,” Carroll coach Kurt Paulson said. “You just have to have the confidence you are going to knock it down, but you have to practice it a lot.”
While the national NAIA Division I men’s basketball free throw percentage average runs around 69 percent, the Saints know the importance of dedicating practice to free-throw shooting, because it can get overlooked.
“Teams miss out on so many points when they miss free throws,” Wyman said. “It also makes it hard for teams because if a game is close and they need someone to foul, who do you pick? There are five guys out there who are shooting over 80 percent.”
As for Cunningham, it didn’t take long for his new team to see how successful free-throw shooting has paid off. Cunningham’s dedication to free-throw shooting has Incarnate Word leading all NCAA Division I teams by making 82 percent of their free throws.
Cunningham refused to say where or from whom he learned the Valpo Method, but he made sure to give credit to his players’ hard work.
“It’s nice of them to toss some credit my way, but daily they’re just great players, skilled hoopers,” Cunningham said. “We pretty much told them to try to get the peach in the basket and they’ve done a great job of figuring out how to do just that.”