Sunday, August 10, 1997
Freeman got jump on competition

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Robin Freeman was the most systematic of revolutionaries.

Before he unleashed his jump shot on unsuspecting Cincinnati, Freeman checked it carefully for flaws. He measured its accuracy over a summer of concentrated shooting, compared it to alternative means of attacking the basket, and kept detailed statistics to support his theory.

Like any aspiring attorney, Freeman wanted to avoid surprises when he took his case to the courts.

''I practiced every day, and all day practically,'' the former Hughes High School phenomenon said, ''and I would shoot so many one-handed set shots, so many two-handed shots, so many hook shots, and I kept records. With no one guarding me, my range on jump shots would be like 70 percent or more.''

Freeman's aim was not quite so accurate with arms in his face, but in 1951-52, he was the most prolific scorer Cincinnati high school basketball has yet produced. Long before the three-point shot or the frenetic fast break, Freeman averaged 39.5 points as a senior, earning all-state honors, a scholarship to Ohio State and - ultimately - election to the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame.

This last honor is a little late, owing to short memories and a ballot temporarily lost in the mail, but on Oct. 22 Freeman will be enshrined with the hall's second class of honorees, along with such local luminaries as Bob Huggins, Byron Larkin and Tony Yates.

''He was fantastic,'' voter Guy Lobuono said of Freeman. ''To me, he was the best high school player who ever came out of Cincinnati.''

Lobuono may be a bit biased. When Roger Bacon adopted a box-and-one defense to thwart Freeman his senior year, it fell to Lobuono to serve as the ''chaser.'' It was, he recalls, a daunting chase.

''In softball,'' Lobuono said, ''they would have called him the rover. He played pretty much anywhere he wanted. He could stop on a dime, and shoot with either hand. He didn't play any defense, but not very many people did. His jumper was the key because it probably was the first legitimate jump shot in Cincinnati.''

Before Robin Freeman, the local basketball scene was dominated by the flat-footed, now-antiquated set shot. He was such a novelty, and such a sensation, that area college players made pilgrimages to see him play. When Freeman later flourished at Ohio State - he shared first-team All-America status with San Francisco's Bill Russell - UCLA wizard John Wooden requested film for further study.

''If you can get yourself properly in the air, the jump shot doesn't have much movement,'' Freeman explained. ''It's just a slight movement of your forearm and wrist. It's easier to control.''

The jump shot would revolutionize basketball much as the forward pass did football, and Robin Freeman was among its first beneficiaries. While the innovation is generally credited to Hank Luisetti, who starred at Stanford in the late 1930s, the jump shot would not become standard equipment for most players until the mid-1950s.

''By the time I was in college, everyone tried it,'' Freeman said. ''And by the time I was out of college, it was the primary shot.

''But when I first started to shoot it my senior year (at Hughes), my coach (Howard Grimes) didn't want me to do it,'' Freeman said. ''I couldn't really do it in practice. But the first game we played, it just sort of happened and, fortunately, it went in.''

Freeman's jumper was inspired by Paul Arizin, the former Villanova star then barnstorming with the Harlem Globetrotters. But lacking Arizin's size - Freeman topped out at 5-foot-11 - he found it useful to develop a fadeaway. In one game, he scored 56 points against Central (later Courter Tech). Central totaled 52.

''It was hard for other teams to guard it because it was something you weren't used to,'' Freeman said of his jumper.

Here, he is being modest. Freeman was too quick for most of his contemporaries - ''A lot of those guys were sort of goons,'' he concedes - and was an accomplished player before the jump shot.

Even as the jump shot became commonplace, Freeman remained a cut above his competition. He was a two-time All-American at Ohio State, and still holds the school's career scoring average record (28.0). He later lost most of two fingers while chopping wood, but says his decision to pass up the NBA was more fiscal than physical.

''Back then, pro basketball wasn't anything like it is today,'' Freeman said. ''Bob Cousy was the most spectacular player of his time and he was making $21,000.''

Freeman chose law school. Now 63, he practices law in Springfield, Ohio. He has not practiced basketball, he says, since he quit playing.

''I don't know about my scoring record, but I do think I have one record that will never be broken,'' he said. ''Nobody will ever take so many shots.''