Bob Feller, the Hall of Fame pitcher, once offered to let me try to hit his curve. Olympian Picabo Street asked if I wanted to ski with her while conducting an interview. Marv Jenson, who managed a world middleweight champ, volunteered to teach me the rudiments of the Sweet Science.
But Jeff Hornacek didn't even think to offer teaching me how to shoot the deadly 3-pointer. When I brought it up, this is what he said: "Hah!"
The occasion was Monday morning's Utah Jazz shoot-around. Practice was over, and Hornacek, the former Jazz guard, had stayed late working with Kyle Korver. Whatever Horny told him certainly worked. Korver sank six 3-pointers in a 110-88 win over New Orleans that night. The Jazz set franchise records for 3-pointers made in a game (14), half (8) and quarter (7).
All I wanted to know is if Hornacek can make Andrei Kirilenko into a 3-point shooter, could he do it for anyone? Like, for instance, moi? That's when he uttered an amused, one-syllable laugh.
"I think you're right," he said knowingly. "You've got to have a shooting eye, and I think Andrei has that. You can tell if a guy has a shooting eye in practice. If they're not making them in practice, it's a different thing."
So maybe scoring isn't for everyone. Or is it?
"I look at Dennis Rodman," he continued. "I think he can shoot. I think he just got to the point where he said, 'I'm not going to shoot 'cause that's not my thing.' But if you got to this level, you scored somewhere. You don't go through grade school, high school and college and make it in the NBA without scoring. It (defense, rebounding, etc.) could get you there later on, but I think in this league, you could probably develop into a decent shooter if you wanted to put in the effort."
This, perhaps, is a good place for a little background. I'm not into participatory journalism. The only thing more embarrassing than journalists attempting sports is athletes attempting journalism.
Feller was in Salt Lake to throw out the first pitch at a game 25 years ago and invited the media see how they'd fare against a sixtysomething Hall of Famer. But I couldn't see the glory in getting struck out by someone more than twice my age.
Street, an ambassador for Park City Mountain Resort, asked one winter day in 2000 if I wanted to make a downhill run with her. I replied that in the interest of all three parties me, her and the mountain I would have to decline.
Jenson, who managed former middleweight champ Gene Fullmer, once offered to teach me how to handle myself in the ring. Of course, that would have required a few weeks' work on the heavy bag, so that was out, too.
In Hornacek's case, I might actually have appreciated a lesson. It's not as dangerous as boxing, skiing or batting. But mostly I was curious about the transformation of Kirilenko. Last year he couldn't hit the ocean with a slingshot. He was a 21-percent shooter from 3-point range. This year he's 15 percentage points higher, and until Monday was even higher than Korver.
Hornacek said it's a combination of things, confidence being the biggest. He noted former Jazz center Olden Polynice, a 29 percent free-throw shooter in Utah, would make nine of 10 in practice.
"It gets down to confidence," said Hornacek.
Players build esteem by repetition in practice, he continued, then by making a few in games. At first, A.K. didn't want to take those shots, until Hornacek convinced him that opponents would lie back and force him to try. He had to start making them sometime.
Although Kirilenko's mojo is clearly back (he missed Monday's game with the flu), that might occasionally be a bad thing. Like, for instance, late in a playoff game when he's standing at the arc.
"You know, there have been a couple times when he has taken a shot and I'm saying, 'C'mon, this is not the time to take it,"' said Hornacek, "Yet in one game he took one and I'm saying, 'No, don't take that,' but he hit it, so I'm like, 'Oh.' You get more leeway when you're making shots."
Hornacek thinks Kirilenko's shooting worries from last year are over.
All it took was the right attitude.
And, of course, what Horny calls the "shooting eye."
Which I guess I must be missing.I left without even glancing at the hoop.
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