Perhaps like many men of his generation, 85-year-old Virgil Sweet cringes when he watches modern-day basketball players step up to the foul line and blow chances at what are essentially free points. Sweet, a Covington native, is no casual observer of the game. The former coach, now retired in the Gulf Coast beach town of Clearwater, Fla., is known as one of the greatest teachers of free throw technique. Sweet's Valparaiso High School varsity team in 1963-64 set a national high school single-season record by making 79.2 percent of its free throws, a record that stands to this day. That season, Valpo's Mike Copper made 409 consecutive free throws during a single practice without ever leaving the free throw line. Never got a drink, never went to the restroom, never called his girlfriend. At an estimated 10 to 12 seconds per attempt, Copper was draining free throws for at least as long as it takes most people to drive from Lafayette to Indy, maybe even with a stop at a Steak 'n Shake drive-through. Sweet is the founder of 'The Valpo Way,' a 20-step free throw shooting system that hundreds of true believers swear by. One of them is Purdue's Robbie Hummel, a sweet-shooting and dependable man at the line, especially when the arena is loud, the student section is distracting and the game hangs in the balance. Hummel, a 6-foot-8 power forward, is the only big man among the top nine most accurate free throw shooters in Boilermaker history. The rest are guards, including Jerry Sichting from Martinsville, who shot 86.7 percent in his four years at Purdue before going on to a successful pro career with the Boston Celtics and a championship in the 1986 NBA Finals. Hummel is the exception in college hoops, not the rule. Times have changed, and so has pride in free throw shooting. Dunks and what's in the wardrobe are more on the minds of today's player than shooting 100 free throws in an empty gymnasium at 6 a.m. Practicing free throws has dropped in the priority order for a generation of players consumed with catching the eye of college coaches sitting in the stands at Amateur Athletic Union spring and summer tournaments. Beyond that, the college game itself has changed. 'I'm glad I'm not coaching today, because the referees don't call anything,' Sweet said on the phone from Florida. 'It's a very physical game. There's not as many free throws shot today. When rule changes have occurred, they have decreased the number of free throws per game. Therefore, coaches work less on free throw shooting than in years gone by.' One of Sweet's shooting disciples is Bryce Drew, who played at Valpo High, starred at Valparaiso University and now, at age 36, is the university's head basketball coach. Not enough hours Bryce Drew won an ESPY in 1998 for his NCAA tournament buzzer-beating shot that stunned Ole Miss. He then earned $7 million in six NBA seasons. Free throw shooting is near the top of Drew's favorite basketball-related topics. In four seasons at Valparaiso, the 6-foot-3 guard was an 83.4 percent free throw shooter. In his NBA career, Drew made exactly 83 percent of his free throws. Indiana's 1994 Mr. Basketball remembers the mandatory, in-season, 30-minute free throw sessions every morning before attending classes at Valparaiso High. In addition to shooting free throws later in the day during practice, Drew and his high school teammates had at least two additional hours at the line each week. Now as a Division I head coach, Drew said NCAA rules regarding practice time prevent players from shooting as many practice-session free throws as the coaches would like. 'Time is a big component of it,' Drew said of declining free throw percentages. 'Several years ago, there wasn't as much time put into weight training and conditioning drills for quickness and speed. Now it seems like much of a player's time is devoted to working on athleticism. Several years ago, instead of two or three hours in the weight room, you might spend another hour or two shooting free throws.' Size matters As an NBA player for the Chicago Bulls, the Charlotte Hornets and the Houston Rockets, Drew was among the league's most accurate free throw shooters. But even at the game's highest level, poor free throw shooting abounded. 'You are talking about the most elite athletes in the world as far as jumping, strength, length and big hands,' Drew said. 'Few had bigger hands than Shaquille O'Neal, who struggled at the free throw line throughout his career. There were times when it looked as if Shaq was grabbing one of those miniature basketballs that cheerleaders throw into the stands, then launching it as if it was a shot put. 'If you think about it, it's much easier for a 6-foot person to shoot a regular-size basketball than a mini-basketball. With Shaq and some big guys, a real ball may feel like a mini-ball. They are shooting straight (at the rim) more than looking up at it.' Many NBA players aim to lift weights four days a week, which means they spend less time shooting free throws. If their legs are sore or tired, it affects free throw mechanics. Drew said that because basketball is a year-round sport for talented kids, more players are plagued by lower-leg injuries, which affects free throw shooting. Drew still endorses 'The Valpo Way,' but understands that each player must develop his own system. 'Everybody is built a little different, and their legs are shaped a little different,' Drew said. 'The angles of their upper body may be a little different. What might work for one person might not work exactly for another person. 'But with the main components (of shooting), we talk about doing the same thing each time. Those things should be consistent with everybody. Obviously, the less movement, the better.' Lack of emphasis Former Purdue standout guard Troy Lewis watches college basketball regularly and doesn't like what he is seeing when players step to the line. 'Guys are in a situation now that they have individual workouts all of the time, but I don't think they focus on free throw shooting,' Lewis said. 'It's more footwork, agility and the midrange game. ... Can you take it off the bounce and shoot the 3? 'When I worked out, as soon as I got tired, I would not stand around and go get a drink of water. I would shoot free throws. That's how I got my breath back.' Lewis, the fifth-leading scorer in Purdue history with 2,038 points from 1985 to 1988, is the most recent player to lead the Boilermakers in free throw percentage for three consecutive seasons. Lewis shot 86 percent in 1986, 76.1 percent in 1987 and 86.7 percent in 1988. The Anderson native, now a wholesale grocery executive in Dayton, Ohio, enjoyed shooting free throws with the game on the line. His high school coach, Norm Held, demanded that Lewis report to school at 6:30 a.m. each weekday to shoot 50 free throws before class. 'It was an emphasis,' Lewis said. 'I can remember in the Lafayette Semistate my junior year, I was 12 for 12, and the game was over ... we had won, and I got fouled with 10 seconds to go. Coach Held yelled at me, 'Don't miss these two free throws.' They didn't mean anything in that game, but that was the emphasis.' Lewis wonders what today's college coaches are thinking. 'What's weird about it is that the coaches that are (working with) these kids played during the same period I played,' Lewis said. 'They are 40 to 50 years old, so you would think they would have the same mentality -- that every free throw counts.' Setting the example Nowadays, Sweet carefully watches players as they warm up before games. If a player misses in warmups, that player is likely to miss free throws during the game, he says. That player, according to Sweet, will be uncomfortable and attempt to change the mechanics of his shot that night -- his hand placement, foot placement and arc. Sweet said free throw accuracy is the result of shooting high-repetition shots during practice without leaving the line. While coaching at Valpo, Sweet developed what he called 'The 100 Club.' To qualify, a player had to make at least 100 consecutive free throws in practice without moving from the line. In Sweet's 20 seasons, 11 earned membership into the club. A 1945 Covington High School graduate, Sweet was the star player for the Trojans' first semistate team and an excellent free throw shooter. He played football for one season at Butler, then played football, basketball and baseball at Eastern Illinois University. After only four years as a high school educator, Sweet applied for the Valparaiso basketball coaching job in 1954. During the final interview in a small board room, school officials asked Sweet to demonstrate a fundamental of the game. Dressed appropriately for an interview, not for a scrimmage, Sweet nonetheless satisfied their request by demonstrating what is now known as The Valpo Way. He is convinced that he got the job because of it. In other words, Sweet got his first shot in coaching by putting it all on the line.