It’s only been five games, but the success freshman Solomon Bozeman has had from the free-throw line is hard to overlook.
Before the Bulls even hit the road for their first away game tonight at Winston-Salem State, Bozeman shot 40-of-44 from the line and is on pace to finish the season with 240 free throws – 135 more than Solomon Jones, who led USF last season.
But despite his 90.9 percentage from the line – which is higher than each of the four respective seniors he has started with in four games – Bozeman isn’t pleased with his numbers.
“I’m disappointed,” Bozeman said Wednesday before leaving for his first road trip. “I think I should make all my free throws. I’m happy at the same time that I’m 40-for-44, but I’m disappointed because that’s not really a good percentage for me. I want to lead the nation in free throws.”
Although he would like to make all of his shots, Bozeman’s goal is to be between 95 percent and 98 percent from the line. That’s something his dad and Southern Arkansas coach Eric Bozeman feels is attainable because of the time he has spent around the game.
“He’s always in the gym because I’ve always been a coach,” Bozeman’s dad said. “He’s probably been to more practices and more ballgames than any kid in the country.”
Free-throw success isn’t new to Bozeman. He shot 94 percent from the line during his senior year at Magnolia High School in Arkansas, where he led his team to the state championship game.
Along with remaining focused and putting in extra time at the gym, Bozeman gives credit to longtime family friend Don Banks – the Free Throw Doctor, as most people know him.
Banks runs shooting clinics and helps players of all ages around the country master the free-throw shot. Bozeman has been training with Banks since he was 12, and they still talk several times a week.
“I’ve seen him hit a hundred free throws in a row, easy,” Bozeman said. “When we work out, I think the best I’ve hit is 82 in a row, so I’m still trying to get at a hundred in a row.”
Banks claims to have made 1,000 straight free throws and 50 consecutive with his eyes closed, but for the players he works with, shooting in the high 90 percents is acceptable.
“A lot of coaches say, ‘Free Throw Doctor, you set the standards so high for the kids,'” Banks said. “But if Solomon sets his standards high and he falls a bit short of the goal he sets, well, he still going to be above most (players).”
Bozeman’s best free-throw performance this season came in the double-overtime win against Stetson, in which he finished 15-of-16 from the line. Before missing his only shot, he made 28 in a row. Solomon also made two consecutive free throws to tie the game with 16 seconds left to send it to overtime, but his one missed free throw really bothered him.
“He told me he didn’t think he played well after that game,” Eric said. “He said, ‘I can’t get a shot to fall.’ And then I read the papers the next morning, and I was kind of surprised.”
With top prospect Chris Howard expected to recover from his torn anterior cruciate ligament next month and transfer Jesus Verdejo eligible in the next couple of weeks, Bozeman feels he has done well in terms of fighting for a permanent starting role.
But whether he starts or comes off the bench, with his early success and the depth that is coming soon, USF players and coaches are confident they’ll do better than last year’s one-win Big East season.
“It was great to see him, early on, step up and make some free throws in pressure situations, because it’s going to happen again during the course of the year,” assistant coach Greg Gary said. “When those guys become eligible it’s going to help us because then we’ll have the depth where, over an extended period of a game, we can play fresh people.”
Last season the Bulls contended in most of their conference games, but constantly came up short. USF held leads against several teams and lost six Big East games by six points or less before finally beating then-No. 20 Georgetown in the season finale.
If Bozeman can continue his success from the free-throw line, the Bulls may just win enough games to make it to the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in March.
“You can go back and look at a lot of (last season’s) stats, and if you’re going to hit your free throws – especially in the Big East – that can mean a couple extra wins,” Gary said.
There are still 25 games left in the season – plenty of time to figure out if Bozeman’s free-throw success will last. For now, he’ll concentrate on playing well in his first collegiate road game, where the fans won’t be on his side.
“That’s a big difference – more crowd noise. There hasn’t been that much noise because I haven’t been on the road yet,” Bozeman said. “I’ve been at home, and the crowd always gets quiet when you’re shooting free throws, so I’d like to see what I can do on the road.”