The Hook Shot


The Hook Shot
Swen Nater

On a Monday morning, late in August of 1968, I walked onto the Cypress College (CA) campus with my notebook, pencil, Pee Chee folder, and my lunch. By far, lunch was the heaviest for it contained four sandwiches. You see, I was 6’9” by then and still a growing boy. I was always hungry, ate a ton, but weighed only 185 pounds. I was so skinny, I had to wear skis in the shower so I wouldn’t go down the drain. I was so light, I could hardly keep my seat down in the movie theatre.

I was good in math and that’s where I thought I was headed with my life. My second class that morning was Calculus II and I loved it. One more class and then lunch. I didn’t know anybody because we had moved from Long Beach to Cypress, so at lunch, I sat by myself in the courtyard and started working on those four sandwiches.

I was about halfway finished when this guy walked over to me and said, “Hi. I’m Tim Tynum. I’m on the basketball team. Mr. Lubin over there [He pointed to a teacher standing by the door leading to the teacher’s lounge.] wants to know if you’re planning on playing basketball.”

I thought, ‘This is too good to be true. At Wilson High School, the coach told me never to try out again because I had stolen tennis shoes so I could try out for the team as a junior. Now a coach is actually asking me to play? Cool.’

I looked at Lubin and then back at Tim and said, “I guess so.” How stupid. I should have said, “Heck, yes!!!” Nevertheless, Tim took me over to Tom Lubin and introduced me. He was a Chemistry teacher and assistant basketball coach under Don Johnson. He was about 6’5” and looked just like Jerry West, crew-cut hair and all. He asked me some questions and then told me his uncle, Frank Lubin, was the center on the first US Olympic Basketball Team, the same Olympics Jesse Owens showed the world, the only superior human is the one that wants it the most and works the hardest.  Coach Lubin offered to work with me after school, every day. Our first appointment was the next day.

The Outside Courts at Cypress
Cypress was only two years old so we didn’t have a gym. (We played our games at the local high school and practiced at the middle school.) I met Coach Lubin on the outside court. He had a ball. The first thing he did was check out my vertical jump. It was sad. At 6’9”, jumping with two feet from under the rim, I could not touch the rim two times in a row. There are a lot of jokes about what is the shortest time span known to man. One is, it’s the amount of time between when the light turns green and the person behind you honks his horn. But the time span, measured from when I left the ground to when I landed has got to be close to the record. Lubin said, “Mmmmm.”

To this day, I believe Tom Lubin to be one of the best teachers I have seen in action. Up to that point, I had only used the jump shot. As I imitated his demonstration of the hook shot his uncle had used as a weapon, he fostered my improvement with just the right blending of: praise and correction, impatience and patience, hope and urgency. His corrections were short but packed with the clear information (coupled with repeated demonstration) I needed to make the changes.

Upon Mr. Lubin’s challenge, on my own, I shot 500 hook shots per day, except for the weekends when I shot 600 or more. I saw improvement almost immediately and the feeling was amazing. I was actually getting good at something. In a few weeks of daily practice, I had developed the shot to where I could hit about twenty in a row with right and left hands. It was time for official basketball practice to start.

Mr. Lubin had skillfully developed a hunger in me—a hunger for being able to do something well, in sports. It was a hunger that was very different from what I experienced at lunch. Those four sandwiches satisfied me until dinner but, with basketball, the more I learned hungrier I got. 

Sunday, I’ll tell you about my first day of basketball practice. I thought I was going to die.



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