Hook Shot: Basketball's Endangered Species
Zone Defense Most To Blame For Its Demise!
There are no sad songs being sung about the demise of the standing guard, the two-handed set shot, the center jump after each scored goal or other jump ball situations that now are solved by which team has the possession arrow in its favor, but there are among us those who still long for the return of the hook shot, which is most difficult to master,
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but beautiful when executed to perfection.
An almost lone throwback to the days of the great hookers is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Los Angeles Laker center whose shot is regarded as such a novelty in these times that it is called a "sky hook." but in reality involves the same moves as the original hooker, whereby a player gets the ball, takes a little step and lifts an extended arm—the one behind the head and away from the defense—toward the basket.
A reminder that the shot is an endangered species comes in the form of a column, "The Vanishing Hook Shot," written by Los Angeles Times staff writer Richard Hoffer and forwarded to University of Kentucky athletics director Cliff Hagan by UK alumnus Howard L. Cleveland of Los Angeles.
"I WAS THERE WHEN ADOLPH (RUPP) ARRIVED with his two suitcases (fall of 1930)." Cleveland writes. "I was there when Harry Gamage (32-25-5 as UK football coach 1927-33) departed with his. The corner lamp posts along Limestone and other appropriate locations bore little signs that read 'COACH STOPS HERE." (They weren't called buses, but we had them, street cars, too—7-cent fare.)
"Many among the 3.000 student body thought the sign, if not the leg-slapper, was mildly amusing.
"So what's the point. Mr. Legend? Dynasties, unlike diamonds, are not forever, but some—well, the great stallion LEXINGTON sired 543 foals.
"UK roundball is remarkably third generation—50 years plus. Compare UCLA, Marquette. DePaul and some others you well know."
We thank Mr. Cleveland for the clipping and his thoughts; meanwhile, we wonder if he realizes that perhaps roundball history was being made while he was on the campus 57 years ago this month, when Rupp, who was coming off a successful break-in season at UK (16-3), announced that during spring drills he would have his boys working on a revolutionary new shot.
THE SHOT WAS A HOOKER, which caught mild attention early among some of the Wildcats, but was embraced only by John "Frenchy" DeMoisey, a 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Walton High School who had attracted Rupp's attention by scoring 50 points in a game against Butler and 45 in a regional game against Paris.
"I wasn't able to teach that shot to any of the other boys," Rupp said. "It was destined to make Frenchy an All-American."
Led by DeMoisey and Aggie Sale, the Wildcats opened the 1932 season with an easy victory over Georgetown, edged Carnegie Tech by two and beat Berea and Marshall handily before DeMoisey was declared ineligible because of a deficiency in sociology.
While the Wildcats were rolling over five other foes in January, DeMoisey started experimenting with a left-handed hook, which he had developed rather handily by the time he returned to lead the 'Cats to a 20-point victory over Washington & Lee. The Wildcats then defeated Duke and Alabama before traveling to Nashville for an important game against Vanderbilt. After DeMoisey scored a school record 29 points to lead UK to a 62-37 win, a Nashville writer described his hook shot as a "whirling dervish job that looked like an accident, but wasn't."
When the Commodores came to Lexington to close out the season, DeMoisey and Sale were ailing with the flu, and Vandy won, 32-31, spoiling a perfect season for the 'Cats. With its two stars still under the weather, UK lost to North Carolina, 43-42, after defeating Tulane, in the Southern Conference tournament.
In a surprising 58-26 victory over Chicago early the following season, DeMoisey hit his "whirling pivot shots" from all angles, scoring 24 points and tying a single game record in that arena before Rupp took him out of the game. He earned all-conference honors that year and the following year, when he also became UK's seventh All-American.
THE NEXT GREAT UK HOOK SHOT ARTIST, and undoubtedly one of the best hookers ever to play the game, was Cliff Hagan, who was a student at Owensboro High when he went over to Bowling Green and watched Western Kentucky's Bob Lavoy shoot the hook shot. Hagan returned home and starting working on the shot. Sometime during that period, he visited UK and started shooting around while the 'Cats were practicing. He recalls talking to Alex Groza, who had a semi-hook, not a full hook shot. The Wildcat All-American thought the shot very difficult to learn and didn't encourage Hagan to depend on it or even take it up.
"I went home and started working on it," Hagan said, "and that became my weapon. Actually, I started shooting it before my junior season; as far as I know, I was really the only player in western Kentucky using it. I'm sure I wasn't the first high school player to use it, because Bob Lavoy had learned it somewhere."
"It's contrary to everything you do," he said, "to lay the ball out on your palm behind
you. It's just a strange feeling until you develop that touch. And you have to shoot about 5.000 of them before you believe you have."
"I was going to break him of that shot," Rupp said, "but every time I was about ready to make him stop using that thing, he would make four or five in a row and I'd say to myself, 'I'll break him next week'. After he got most of his 51 points on hookers against Temple. I decided to let him keep it."
In the L.A. Times article, Hoffer refers to the hook as "an inverted finger roll—a reverse dunk—you couldn't block it with an oar. . .the prettiest two points you'd ever see."
Bill Sharman, president of the Lakers, who calls Hagan "probably the greatest hook-shooting forward of all time," and who also remembers such great hookers as George Mixan, Ed Macauley, Clyde Lovellette and John Kerr, told Hoffer it's "a shame" that you don't see the hook shot anymore, with the notable exceptions of Kareem's Laker teammate Magic Johnson, who has been working on a "junior, junior, junior sky hook," and Kevin McHale of the Celtics, who hooks occasionally.
"IN THE 30s AND 40s AND EARLY 50s, the teams would seldom run or fast-break." he told Hoffer. "So when they would set up on almost every play, it was much harder to get a good, easy shot and many players were forced to use the hook shot. Today, almost all teams try to run and fast break at every opportunity. This places more emphasis on facing the basket.and offers less opportunities to use the hook shot."
Hagan's Hook Would Mean Big Bucks In Today's Game
Pete Newell, former Cal coach and now with the Golden State Warriors, said the demise of the hook shot happened about 15 years ago, when the rules committee changed the interpretation of the screen. "It then allowed you to go down and pick a guy," he said, "and rarely was there an offensive foul. It was the birth of the motion offense. It creates a shot in the vicinity of the basket so there's now a lot of jamming."
In other words, the big man no longer could find room to maneuver in what had become very tight space "in the paint."
"It became that the only way to defend was to zone," Newell continued. "It got so you just couldn't stay with the guy (in a man-to-man). Up to two to five years ago. 90 percent of college and high school teams were playing some kind of zone. And when you have a zone, you have no room for the center. The coaching concept became, 'If you're gonna beat me. beat me over the top".
"With the emergence of the zone defense, there was no room for the post men to maneuver. He moves and somebody else—some fainting Phil, I call them—takes the offensive foul and falls down. Seriously, coaches were spending as much as 30 minutes a practice on taking the charge."
"When I played the hook shot was just a must," Hagan told Hoffer. "It was virtually unstoppable. I don't understand why it's not here today, the way it extends a big man's capabilities."
Marty Blake, director of scouting for the NBA and former general manager of the St. Louis Hawks, said Hagan had a such a fearsome hook shot that he even intimidated the great Bill Russell.
"Cliff would take the ball right at Russell," Blake told Dan Metzger of Cawood Ledford Productions, "while most players wouldn't, or if they did, they altered their shots. Cliff Hagan was one helluva basketball player. If he was playing today, he would be making a million dollars."