Now 74 and a dozen years into enjoying the fruits of retirement, Sam Alford isn’t sure how accurately he would be able to shoot free throws.
With enough time to warm up, Alford is confident he could hold his own. With little or no time to establish a feel, a rhythm, he readily admits the results might not be so positive.
Just know that as a younger man, Alford was the best.
At Franklin College, he still is.
On Page 19 of the Grizzlies’ 2016-17 men’s basketball media guide are two small lines of type dedicated to Alford’s unbelievably resilient program standards.
By the conclusion of his senior season (1963-64), Alford owned Franklin College records for highest free-throw shooting percentage in a single season (.912) and for a career (.853).
Nothing has changed 53 basketball seasons later.
Alford, who played forward for the Grizzlies, figured he might hang on to both marks for a few years upon establishing the program’s new standards.
Surely at some point a young sharpshooter would come along and break them.
Five years quickly became 10, which before Alford knew it had become 30. And then 40 … 50 ….
“It’s strange. Now that I’m an old man, they probably mean more to me now than they did back then,” Alford said. “I am surprised the records have lasted this long.”
There is a chance one of Alford’s records might be erased by the end of this season.
Senior guard Robbie Prather is 40 of 46 (.870) from the stripe this season; he’s 104 of 121 (.860) from the beginning of his sophomore campaign.
For sake of comparison, Alford converted 124 of 136 attempts as a Grizzlies senior, including a string of 34 consecutive makes.
It’s unlikely Prather can surpass Alford’s blistering single-season achievement. And though he’ll finish his time at Franklin College with less than half of the attempts of Alford’s 334, Prather conceivably could wind up with a higher career percentage.
“Robbie is getting close,” said Alford, who is close friends with Prather’s father, longtime Franklin College men’s basketball coach Kerry Prather. “And you couldn’t find a better or nicer guy. If someone is to break it, Robbie would be a great person to do it.”
Alford and the younger Prather have talked shop before.
What it takes to be a good free-throw shooter. The mechanics. The focus. The practice.
Before trends such as drying one’s palms on his socks or the bottom of one of his game shoes became common among players, Alford would position his right foot barely behind the stripe and the left one a few inches behind.
Bouncing the basketball a minimum of two times and a maximum of three, he would take aim and let fly.
“It’s strange how the game has changed so much. In 1959-60, as a senior in high school, I was the first player from Washington High School to ever hit over 40 percent from the field and 70 percent from the line the same year,” Alford said.
“I’ve always thought that focus and repetition were important to being a good free-throw shooter. You’ve got to be able to block things out of your mind and just practice, practice, practice.”
Wisdom obviously handed down to his son, Steve, currently the UCLA men’s basketball coach. As a player at Indiana University from 1983-87, Steve made a shade under 90 percent of his free-throw attempts (535 of 596).
Steve’s son, Bryce, a senior guard who is currently the leading scorer on the eighth-ranked Bruins with a 17.2-point average, is an .823 career free-throw shooter (394 of 479).
Like father, like son.
Not once, but twice.
Kerry Prather, now in his 34th season as the Grizzlies coach, has seen his share of players who possessed uncanny marksmanship unguarded from 15 feet way.
The fact that Sam Alford’s name remains part of the Franklin College men’s basketball record book alongside former players who are many years younger never fails to impress.
“It’s just a remarkable accomplishment,” Prather said. “It’s possible that someday the records are broken, but that particular skill, like shooting itself, has become less of a priority to kids in recent years.
“But if some Grizzly came along and broke it, Sam, loyal Grizzly that he is, would be equally as proud of whoever broke it.”
ON THE MARK
Here are some of the free-throw shooting records for Franklin College’s men’s basketball program:
Game: Craig Plummer vs. Taylor (1967-68), 18 of 18; Donnie Gohmann vs. Manchester (1995-96), 16 of 16
Season: Sam Alford (1963-64), 124 of 136 (.912)
Career: Sam Alford (1960-64), 285 of 334 (.853)
Consecutive FTs: Mike Guth (1992-93), 40