What’s Your Free Throw?

By Beacon Staff

Just in case you weren’t watching last Monday night, the Memphis Tigers lost the 2008 NCAA men’s basketball championship game to the Kansas Jayhawks. (No, this is not the sports section)

It was one of the better games of the blowout-ridden finals weekend, ending up 75-68 Kansas, in overtime. Odd thing is, even though it was an exciting game, it shouldn’t have ever made it to overtime.

But it did…Because of a single free throw.

And yes, we are talking about business here. Just play along for my amusement for a moment, OK?

All season long, Memphis head coach John Calipari has been making excuses about his team’s poor free throw shooting. Likewise, Calipari spent interview time all season long appearing to discount the importance of the fundamental flaw in the Tigers’ basketball, by saying “We find other ways to win” and “We would always come through when the stakes were highest.”

Yet, that isn’t what they did when the championship was completely under their control.

See, Memphis’ season-long performance at shooting free throws was downright ugly. In fact, they were 339th out of 341 NCAA teams. They made only 59% of their free throws. Hardly the mark of a good team, much less a national champion.

While Memphis ended up second in the nation after losing to Kansas, they were second to last in the nation free throw percentage – a position based on their season-long performance.

Now you know why Kansas head coach Bill Self told his team to foul Memphis every time they got the ball in the last few minutes of the game. He studied his competition’s fundamental weakness and knew that their ability to make free throws would bury them.

Any coach in the same position would have instructed his players do to the same thing. It was strategic: Force the opponent to their weakest position and then take advantage. Not much different than business, if you get the opportunity.

After the game, Memphis’ star freshman guard Derrick Rose was interviewed about the free throws and not surprisingly echoed exactly what his coach said all season, drinking the coach’s free throws aren’t important Kool-Aid like it was a hot summer day.

Rose said “If we had done other things prior to the end of the game, we would have won anyhow.”

In fact, Rose’s team had done most of those things already as Memphis built a nine point lead with two minutes remaining in the game. Much of that lead was due to a spectacular second half played by none other than Derrick Rose, where he did the things necessary to win that he and the coach talked about.


Rose the hero, who played an incredible game, also ended up being the goat by missing a free throw at the end of the game that would have made it impossible for Kansas to tie the game with a three point shot.
Instead of throwing up a three-pointer that meant nothing, Jayhawk Mario Chalmers tied the game with two seconds remaining with a three pointer that was destined to go in. Memphis’ back was broken. Kansas came out quickly in the overtime, jumped to a 5 point lead, and never looked back.

And what exactly does this have to do with your business?


In basketball, free throws are one of those “minor things” that champions do to win. Part of being in the top 2% of any group is doing the things that no one else does – and doing them well.

In other words: Fundamentals.

“It will probably hit me like a ton of bricks tomorrow, that we had it in our grasp,” Memphis head coach John Calipari said after the game.

What would hit your business like a ton of bricks? What would hit your competitor like a ton of bricks?

What fundamentals do you discount, or completely ignore? Where does your strongest competitor lack excellence in fundamentals? Where do they lack competence? What skill or activity can you pay more attention to thus raising the performance of yourself and your company?

Work on your fundamentals. Make yourself a real pain in the butt to compete with.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].