The “skyhook” helped basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar score 38,387 points, the most in NBA history. It’s a move the Mercury’s 6-foot-8 rookie Brittney Griner hopes to learn.
That process startedWednesday. Abdul-Jabbar was on hand then to watch Griner and the Mercury practice at US Airways Center. After talking to the team and answering questions, he had a 15-minute 1-on-1 session with Griner; an introductory course to the iconic skyhook.
“Man, I just went to legend school,” Griner said. “He was just giving me the technical parts of the skyhook for me to work on. He’s the master; I’m the young apprentice. If I can add that to my arsenal, it will open up my game.”
It was a short session, but Griner said she already learned something crucial to the shot.
“I learned just how to hold the ball,” she said. “I was holding the ball wrong in my hand. I was tossing it; throwing it up like a layup. I wasn’t holding the ball the right way to have full control of the ball. I just picked that up for a couple of minutes right there.”
Griner, 22, never saw Abdul-Jabbar play. She was born 16 months and five days after Abdul-Jabbar played his last game of his career, one that totaled six NBA titles and six league MVPs in 20 seasons. But Griner did say she’s seen him play on the ESPN Classic channel and through clips on YouTube.
Abdul-Jabbar has seen Griner dominate while she was at Baylor, and witnessing Wednesday’s practice in person confirmed what he already knew.
“She’s a very talented athlete,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “She’s not just tall. She has skills. She runs the court very well. She’s agile. I think she’s going to have a great career. I’ve seen tall woman players, but I’ve never seen a tall woman player who has her grace and agility. That’s unusual.”
Abdul-Jabbar agreed to attend a practice and meet with Griner after Mercury and Suns Vice President Ann Meyers Drysdale recently called the NBA offices to ask if he was interested in coming to Phoenix.
He went through the ins and outs of the skyhook, a shot he said he learned in middle school and had perfected while in high school. He started with how to position her body near the basket when she receives the ball, how to feel the defender’s body on her back and which side to roll or spin depending on the defender’s positioning and the proper way to hold the ball and shoot the skyhook.
They didn’t go full speed, but Griner did make shots over the Abdul-Jabbar’s outstretched arms.
Don’t expect Griner to perfect it by May 27 when the Mercury begin their season. She could in time.
When Abdul-Jabbar was asked if he would come back to continue coaching Griner, he said, “I don’t know. It all depends on how things work out. I’m not against it, though. I’m pretty sur, she can be the leading scorer in the WNBA, because nobody has her size.
“I don’t mind (coaching), especially if the person wants to learn. It’s fun. I like seeing the light go on.”
Odeen Domingo also writes for azcentral.com, a Gannett property
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