Tuesday, November 6, 2007
One-On-One with Toronto Raptors Guard-Forward Jason Kapono
The Globe and Mail Newspaper's Michael Grange goes one-on-one with Toronto Raptors Guard-Forward Jason Kapono in this in-depth interview last October 26, 2007.
Grange's article is quite comprehensive as he and Kapono go into the dynamics of shooting a basketball, Kapono's training regiment, the shooter's proverbial "holy grail," and the differences from the Heat's style of basketball to that of the Raptors.
If you know your basketball, then you know UCLA's Jason Kapono.
The Globe's Michael Granger wrote:
When did you get into basketball, and when did you get serious about basketball?
I got into it in first of second grade. We had a hoop in my driveway, so I was always outside, playing with my Dad, just fooling around. I got serious in the fourth grade. I was playing at school with a friend or mine and he was a year ahead of me and he asked me to join his travelling team. It’s an older team, but whatever, come out and play. I was like, all right. I’d played little fun leagues at school, but never to the point where it was a travelling team with destination tournaments and caravan and over night and that kind of deal.
Did your Dad play?
He played in high school, but he was not a serious college player. He just enjoyed sports. He played basketball, but he was more a fan than a player.
When did you become conscious of the mechanics of shooting?
When I was on the travelling team the coaching was more intense. The school leagues it’s just keep everyone happy, young kids having a good time, but on the travelling team that’s when the fundamentals came in, technique, a lot of drill work and stuff.
But, I’m a junkie. I took that stuff and went home and practiced and watched TV, watched the Lakers play, and you just kind of pick up on stuff.
Did you copy anyone?
You’re too young to pick up on that. It’s more of a feel thing; I’m more of a feel player. All the mechanics and stuff, I’ve got down. I understand the basics, now it’s more feel, I’m not concentrating on changing things, I can’t name one guy that I watched – Larry Bird or Magic or Byron Scott – I watched guys play and got comfortable with what I heard and saw and stuck with that.
What fundamentals did you learn as a young guy that are with you now?
You always have to be ready to shoot. People take that for granted. If you’re not ready to shoot, or if you’re not ready to do anything, how do you expect to do it well?
It all comes down to your feet. Your feet always have to be in a position where you’re ready to shoot, ready to make something happen. You can’t waste time trying to get your feet set once you get the ball, that’s probably the biggest thing.
When people talk shooting everyone talks about follow through and elbows and form ...
I don’t think there’s one certain style or technique that works. Everyone’s body is different, everyone’s game is different. You take Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, Steve Kerr …everyone’s different. The shot pocket is higher, lower, in or out. But it’s perfecting it to where you shoot it the same way every time. But what is consistent is everyone’s feet are always set; everyone’s body is always square. From a Michael Jordan fadeaway to Steve Kerr set shot; their feet are square, their feet are set. The lower half of the body is a constant.
But you do understand the fundamentals well, it's obvious. Can you take me through them? Your feet are set, you know the swing pass is coming, what happens next?
Number one I get my feet ready. I’m a right-handed shooter so I prefer to go left foot first, so my left foot is my plant foot so I can step into the ball. I have a slight bend in my knees to [provide] the strength for the length of the shot and you have you’re hands prepared. You can’t have you hands down, you have to have your hands ready to catch and shoot, because you just have a certain amount of time to get your shot off. I’m trying to catch the ball into my shot pocket as quick as possible. And then the only thing I’m concentrating on is following through up, rather than out. I don’t like to miss short. If you miss short it doesn’t have a chance. If you’re off a little left or right you have a chance for a bounce, anything short, you don’t make. I always concentrate on following through upwards, towards the sky, rather than out.
Just to be clear, your shot pocket is?
It’s where I want to start my shot at (mimes having a ball ready for launch, just off the right side of his head, right hand spread behind the ball, wrist cocked; elbow coiled, left-hand guiding the ball), at shoulder height. I don’t like to catch it, bring it back down and bring it back up. That split second or two is a shot lost or a shot missed. The quicker or sooner you can get it into your shot pocket and started higher percentage chance you have of making those shots.
Darrick Martin said the thing he thinks that makes you stand out is you can catch the ball in different spots and get into the shooting position without having to re-route it? Does that make sense to you?
Totally. That’s what I work on. As you go on in your career people scout you and get to know your game. So the quicker and better you are at getting different types of shots off, the more effective you will be. So that’s something I really concentrated on after college when I got in the NBA. Most guys have to catch it, drop it and then shoot it. For me my whole game is based on my shot. So the quicker I can get my shot off and the better I can get at that, the more shots I can get. So I feel like I’m able to catch passes high and still shoot it high or I can catch it low and get it up to the shot pocket quicker than most guys.
You shot 51.1 from the three-point last year. ... Do you think someone can shoot 60 per cent?
It’s possible, but it’s unlikely. There’s so many games, that would be tremendous feat.
What's the holy grail?
If you want to be a really good shooter, you want to shoot 50 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three. Last year there was maybe one or two guys. Nash was probably close. I shot almost 50 from the fields and 50 from three. Right now a good shooter is 40-40. If you can shoot 40 from the field and 40 from three you’re a pretty good shooter, but I think 50-50 is a really good shooter.
You were telling me before that if you're alone in a gym you'd expect to make 80 or 85 of your threes. Would you ever run the table? Make 100?
Nah. I’ve never made 100. The most I’ve probably made is, I don’t know, I can’t even guess.
So you don't write down all your stuff like Hopla?
He’s a clinic shooter, but he can really shoot.
What's the difference?
It’s rhythm. It’s much easier to shoot when you’re in rhythm. In a game you may not touch the ball for six minutes. You may come off the bench. There’s other players on the court; defence, a score, fans. In a gym by yourself you’re going to shoot a lot better than in a game.
What are your practice routines like? Were you a gym rat as a kid?
Always. I had to go to school obviously, and outside of school I just wanted to play sports. I loved playing basketball so I spent a lot of time doing it. That’s what I do now. I get paid to do this so that’s what I focus on.
But I know what I’m capable of and I know what kind of game I have and I practice that. I’m realistic in knowing I’m not going to be a cross-over guy, I’m not going to be a get to the rim, slasher guy. I practice shots I’m going to get in the game: curls, fades, spot-ups, coming off screens, stuff like that. A typical day for me is working specific to those kinds of shots. I don’t really like to waste any time – at the end of practice I might shoot half-court shots and have fun, but in real practice time I shoot the shots I’m going to get so in a game I’m not surprised if I catch one high or catch one low of if I’m coming off a curl and it’s a bounce pass instead of chest pass. That’s stuff you learn and get used to in practice.
So when you do your workouts .... you don't want every pass perfect?
No. And we rarely spend time on spot ups because that’s more of a rhythm, where you’re getting comfortable with your shot. In a game it’s rare you get a clean, spot-up shot. You’re either getting in transition where you have to run into it or the pass is high or low, so that’s how you have to practice. You can’t just go through the motions, because when the game comes around and a 6-foot-8 dude is flying at you to close you out, if you’re going to shoot a slow, half-assed kind of shot, it’s probably not going to be that good.
It's kind of like really good golfers. They're not practising all their chips from a perfect lie to an uphill pin. They practise shots from bad lies.
Exactly. It’s a mistake game. Basketball is a mistake game. So you want to limit them. You’re bound to have a mistake or a mess-up, so you want to limit it. My whole thing is I don’t mind if I miss shots, but I don’t like to not shoot the ball the same way every time. So I want to limit how many times I change my shot. So I focus on consistently shooting the ball the same way and over my career it’s been proven I’m going to make a good amount of those shots.
Mike Miller told me if you're making 51 or 52 per cent from three, you're probably not taking enough threes. Is it worth droping four or five per cent if you make an extra three a game?
I understand that, but I like to take quality shots. So an in-between three or one with a guy closing out on you, I’d rather shoot a pull-up jump shot. That’s a higher percentage shot than somewhat forcing a three-pointer. And obviously you’re going to get more in the system here than in Miami or San Antonio, half-court system. I would think my attempts will go up this year because of the style we play, but I’m not out there to be a three-point shooter. I don’t think that’s all I’m good at. I’m a shooter; I can make shots from the three or from 17-foot range.
Does it bug you a little bit that people think of you as a spot-up shooter?
Nah. That’s standard. Most people don’t understand the real game of basketball. It stands out; I led the league in three-point shooting. People see that and think I’m a three-point shooter. Just like a golfer like Bubba Watson. He’s just a long drive guy. He’s got great tough; he’s a good putter; he’s got all that, but they just see he drives the ball 324-yards so everyone thinks he’s a long driver. I don’t mind that, but I understand there’s more to playing basketball than shooting threes.
Give me a day in your off-season.
I like to go as early as possible. Darrick, he likes to go at 6 a.m., I don’t like to go that early. But I’m in early. I do a lot of individual work, a lot of skill work – that’s the curls, fades, pick-and-rolls, down screens.
It’s whoever is in town. This summer it was me, D-mart, J.J. Reddick, Jalen Rose, Ike Diogu, T.J was there a couple of days. Sometimes you’re have two guards, two bigs and play 2-on-2. It’s a good two hours. The first two hours are your skill work, your shots, and then you try to play more live – pick-and-roll, one-on-one, two-on-two. Afterwards you we play 5-on-5 over in Santa Monica.
How many shots would you expect to get up in a workout?
At least 500, I would say. I don’t really count, but you get everything. It’s game-like. You try to simulate what kind of shots you get and what kind of shots you need to work on coming into that year. Coming into this year I was doing more fast break stuff; transition stuff; the corner shot; shot-fake out of the corner and pin-downs, just stuff from watching tape over the summer, seeing how they play. It’s a different style here.
Like the one you hit last night in transition at the start of the game. You wouldn't get that in Miami?
No. A first-pass shot, early in the clock wasn’t a quality shot there. Here, it’s what they want me to do and it’s something I feel good about taking.
Do you have perfect mechanics?
No. I have flaws. I don’ t think there is a perfect way to shoot the ball. A perfect way to shoot the ball is if you can consistently shoot it the same way, every time. That’s the hardest thing. That’s what Tiger Woods would tell you, that’s what the best in any sport will tell you. They want to swing the bat, swing the club or shoot the ball the same way, every time. You get in trouble and you struggle when you don’t do that. I just try to perfect the way I shoot the ball and consistently shoot it the same way.
Your arc isn't as high as other guys who get called pure shooters - Ray Allen, Mike Miller ...
I’m not a high ball shooter and never have been. Some of it is because I’m a front-rim shooter. My target is always the front rim, which is a bit weird, because I never like to miss short, but just like to get it over the front rim, unlike some guys who are back rim shooters. Typically back rim shooters shoot the ball higher, so that might be a difference, but otherwise its just feel. Just like a golfer, some like to hit the ball high, some like to hit it low. I’m a medium-arc shooter.
Rick Barry says you shoot the ball too flat. If your arc was higher you'd shoot 60 per cent
It’s a comfort level. Everyone gets caught up in shooting like it’s such a technical thing. Really it’s just fundamentals and basics and it’s taking what you feel comfortable with and mastering that way. Everyone gets too caught up. Furyk has mastered his way of swinging the club, that’s why he’s really good at it. If he tried to swing like Tiger, he’d be terrible.
That’s the hardest thing to do in this sport. You need to figure out your niche, in your role, in your game and master that.. You don’t worry about what other guys are doing, don’t worry about what other people are telling you. I’m a shooter, so I know my whole niche is to make shots. So yeah, everyone tells me I need to work on my dribbling and this and that, but the bottom line is I would never be in the league if I couldn’t make shots.
So you continue to work on your strengths?
I try to get better, I try to add things, but I never forget why I’m in the league, and what I have to do. No matter what, basketball, academics, life, you always want to prove people wrong, but you can’t lose sight of what you’re good at. Why not focus on what you’re really good at, and achieve that goal, versus trying to prove everyone wrong and lose sight of what you’re good at.
When you’re in college or you’re a kid you read bad stuff about you and it affects you but you just learn, hey, this is who you are and focus what you’re good at. If I wasn’t going to make the league I’d rather go down on my terms instead of someone else’s.
Have you ever asked yourself: 'Why am I?' You can make the case you're the best shooter in the world.
I’ve never think about that. It’s Damon Jones, actually. The self-proclaimed. He’s the sniper; the world’s greatest.
But no, I never really think about that. But I do think about good I feel knowing that all that hard work and the concentration on focusing on that dominant skill is now an appreciated skill to where the Raptors and Sam Mitchell and Bryan Colangelo pursued me so intensely. It’s a credit to myself and my family and those around me who pushed me and telling me that hey, don’t worry about the other stuff and the criticism. Just take care of yourself and in the end it will turn out.
Have you ever had a crisis of confidence about your game, your style?
I always want to improve. I’m a confident guy, I’m a confident person, I think I can improve, I think I can be better. That’s why I do make some moves and try to get to the hoop, because I feel I can.
Was there ever a point where you doubted your game?
In college, yeah. I lost sight of that and I didn’t shoot the ball as well as could have at times because I was so caught up in trying to prove everyone wrong because I was caught up in trying to prove that, hey, I’m a show in LA, I’m more athletic and more of slasher and I can get to the hoop. You get caught up in the scouts and the prospect of the draft and all that hoopla.
Do you enjoy shooting the basketball?
Do I enjoy it? I love it. It’s something I’ve done as a kid and I love basketball. As much as I play it and as much as I practice it I still watch it. I still enjoy studying it; I still enjoy soaking it in as a fan; I still enjoy coming to practice. There’s rarely a day when I’m upset that I have to go play basketball. Everyone has there day when you’re like, man, I wish I could go do this, but it’s very rare. Basically I’ve been playing basketball every day for the last 15 years, or at least six out of seven days. It’s my job, but I enjoy it.
What's it feel like when you know you're going to make a shot?
It’s just rhythm. You just feel it from your legs up. You’re feeling strong that night and you feel like you’re in the flow. Making a shot all starts with being ready. And the feeling is when you know you’ve put in the time and the practice and the work and you come out with a confident mind frame then there’s no reason for you not to make that shot.
What happened the night of July 1st when Bryan called?
I was at home with my wife. You just get a feel for who is interested, who might call and you wait and see. Bryan called, or he called my agent and he called me and made me an offer that was the best out there and I was ecstatic. I’ve always been someone fighting for my career and going to a new team every year. Someone comes out of the gate and puts you No.1 on their priority list, it’s a humbling experience and it made me feel good that all the hard work and perseverance paid off.
We were just hanging out in the living room, watching television. It’s surreal, you don’t really believe it’s happening. Is he serious? Are the Raptors serious, are we getting a long-term deal? Do they really want us? Because that’s been my whole career. Wait, wait, wait and your agent has to do so much work and convince, convince, convince. Instead of us having to pursue teams, teams were coming after us. It was a weird feeling.
How long did it take you to decide?
Not that long. Maybe 10 minutes. I talked to my wife, talked to my agent a little more, bounced it around a little bit and decided coming to Toronto was the best thing.
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