The Foul Line’s Still An Adventure For Lee

No matter how much he works on that thing of beauty that is his jump shot; no matter how many three-pointers he’ll knock down in practice or games, for some reason being a long range bomber deluxe doesn’t translate into being automatic at the free throw line for Lee Humphrey. It’s not for a lack of practice, either.

He puts in the time at the foul line but for reasons he can’t explain, he isn’t nearly as consistent as he wants to be.

Humphrey was the SEC leader in three-pointers last season (45.6 percent) and ranked among the best three-point shooters in the nation. His 113 three-pointers were a school record for a single season at Florida. In Florida’s two Final Four games, he was the dagger to the heart. Against George Mason in the semifinals he knocked down six threes and he followed that up in the championship game against UCLA with four more.

It was the timing of the big shots that made the performance much more special. He came out of the locker hot to start the second half in both games, enabling the Gators to pretty much put the game away in the first few minutes and go on cruise control the rest of the way.

He was the baby faced assassin from long range but when it came to the foul line, he was an adventure in the making. He was 18-30 for the season, just 60 percent and that was a decline from his sophomore year when he was 66.7 percent. Declining free throw percentages are another of those unexplained mysteries for the sharpshooter from Maryville, Tennessee.

“My free throw percentage wasn’t that great in high school,” said Humphrey Monday. “It was okay but it actually got worse every year.”

So this summer he went to the gym and devoted more time than ever to free throw shooting and improving his ball handling. He spent the same amount of time on the jump shot, though. That’s his calling card and the reason that Joakim Noah says you have to account for Humphrey every single play.

At Florida’s basketball media day, Noah, said, “Humpty Dump is a problem because even if he isn’t scoring, he is such a problem around that three-point line. He spaces the floor so a guy like me can take a bigger guy off the dribble. Lee Humphrey’s man is not allowed to help at all. He can’t give him any room or it’s going up otherwise. He’s going to shoot threes. That’s what he’s going to do.”

So Humphrey shot threes during the summer. Over and over again. Just like he always does. This year, however, he worked harder at other things.

“I probably shot about the same amount,” he said. “I didn’t shoot any more jumpers than I have in the past. I probably devoted more time to free throws and handling the ball than I did to my jump shot but I think I did the same amount on my jump shot as I have in past summers.”

He’s gotten plenty of suggestions about his free throws. There is no shortage of advice and plenty of well wishers have suggested that because his jump shot is so deadly, perhaps he should try that when he’s at the foul line.

“I’ve had people suggest that I shoot my jump shot but I don’t think I would shoot as good a percentage as I do now,” he said.

He hopes the free throw shooting improves this year but the one thing the Gators will count on is for Humphrey to be the reliable weapon from the outside that stretches the defenses and allows more freedom for Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard to operate on the inside.

Humphrey averaged 10.9 points per game last season as a junior and he’s within range of making the 1,000 point club (he has 668 points) and he has a chance to become the all-time leading three-point shooter in Florida history. Brett Nelson holds the school record with 274 threes so Humphrey if Humphrey can knock down 100 threes this year, he will leave UF with that all-time mark.

The only record he’s interested in, however, is winning. He had 72 assists last year and all five of Florida’s starters not only averaged double figures, they had at least 70 assists, making the Gators the only team in the nation with that distinction. That ability to share the ball is a sign of chemistry and unselfishness, and that is the target that Humphrey wants to zero in on.

“Our biggest strength last year was our chemistry and we need to keep that same chemistry and that same level of unselfishness,” he said. “I think having a good ego is key to that.”

Humphrey has noticed how Noah, the team’s most visible and charismatic player, has handled the notoriety of being the most popular man on campus and the most noticeable figure wherever they go.

“During the summer I went to Atlanta for the Adidas camp and they had college guys up there to play and I was with Jo,” Humphrey said. “We were walking through the Atlanta airport and every person in the Atlanta airport knew who he was. He was real respectful and he said thanks to everybody because he gets a whole lot of attention.

“I would say that there aren’t too many guys his age that can handle the attention that he gets. He’s so recognizable with the hair but he works just as hard in the gym and he comes to practice with the same attitude.”

There are other signs that the team is going to be sailing a similar course of unselfish play this year. One is the hard work that Walter Hodge has put in to become a reliable backup point guard to Taurean Green.

“Walter has played really well during the first week and a half of practice,” said Humphrey. “He’s handled the ball well as a point guard and he’s done a good job of running the team. He’s really shot the ball well the first week and a half of practice. He’s definitely improved a lot since last season.”

Another good sign is the four freshmen. They’ve come in and worked hard enough to make an impression on the upperclassmen.

“I think all four freshmen have really contributed a lot in practice,” he said. “They bring intensity every day and they really work hard. I think all the guys have probably been impressed with how the freshmen have played and they should help us out this year.”

As for Humphrey, he will continue his role as the team’s designated dagger in the heart of opponents with his three-point shooting. He’s hoping his free throw shooting improves, but he admits, it’s all a mystery.

“I wish my free throw percentage was higher,” he said. “It’s kind of strange. I think Bruce Bowen in the NBA has a high three point percentage but a low free throw percentage, too. Hopefully, that’s going to improve.”

Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.