Pistons’ Dave Hopla Shares Life Lessons, With Humor in Woodstock

Dave Hopla talks to the kids at the Woodstock Basketball Camp about getting back up after falling (in life) during a lesson on perseverance. (Rick Russell Photo)

I’ve always loved basketball. As a young child I watched Big Five games on television and played in my suburban driveway once my dad put the hoop up over our garage. One-on-one games with my brother, two-on-two with friends and often just shooting by myself.

But my high school was very big and I wasn’t blessed with much athletic talent and had even less speed. So I found a church league that I could play in during my high school years. Even then I was only the fifth starter on a pretty good team that won its league championship.
I did figure out how to be an adequate rebounder by using my height and hips to box out the opposition. And I learned how to be a decent shooter by repetitive practicing.

Every day I would go to the foul line and shoot ten free throws and see how many I could make. It had to be a minimum of seven or I was not satisfied. I could usually make eight and occasionally nine or even ten.
I would shoot multiple sets of ten, but never any set amount. And I never added the sets of ten together; I just started anew and tried to make eighty per cent each round.

Little did I realize that just one state to my west, in Maryland, was somebody who was shooting more shots in a day than I took in a month, more shots in a week than I was attempting in a year.

Like me, Dave Hopla had trouble making his high school varsity team, but, after struggling to make junior varsity as a junior, ultimately he did. And with his dedication to his craft continuing at junior college, a small college in Nebraska, it took him only two-and-a-half decades to make it to the highest level – the NBA as a shooting consultant.

Hopla, now with the Detroit Pistons (his fourth NBA team), brought the lessons learned from this lifetime of striving and shooting to the Woodstock Basketball Camp last Friday afternoon. Speaking to a rapt audience of some 70 students and more than a few adults, he brilliantly blended his theme of positive actions bringing positive results with his techniques for improving shooting technique through simple, stepby- step repetitive practice.

He certainly mixed in plenty of humor during his presentation too. When he finally earned a college scholarship he noted it was “in a foreign country – Nebraska.” And if a teammate tells you he is always open and it’s true, “there’s a good reason for that. He’s no good. Nobody needs to bother guarding him.”

And all the while he shot. And he shot. And he shot some more. Thanks to the dedicated effort of a scorekeeper (he had a woman keep track “because women are smarter than men”) we know that he took 437 shots in an hour. And he made 428 of them. That’s a 97.9-percent clip.

First he shot one-handed, reading “Spalding” on the basketball every time he put up a shot. Then he added his left hand to eliminate excess motion and increase accuracy. It was hard to note any improvement in accuracy, as virtually all the shots were dropping in, all the time.
Next he was shooting jump shots upon receiving a pass from Caleb Webb, his rebounder du jour. He expanded beyond shooting to teach the campers on how to catch the pass in order to be in the right position to quickly put up the shot.

He asked one camper what part of the body he used to catch a basketball and Travis responded, “hands.” He then had Travis’ friend cover Travis’ eyes and threw Travis several passes to see how successful Travis was in using only his hands to catch the ball. Even with Hopla lobbing the ball easily right to Travis, he, not surprisingly, fumbled several attempts in discovering that he utilized more than just his hands to receive a pass.
Hopla asked the assembled group how many of them shot every day and only two hands went up. One of them was Webb, and he queried Webb, “Did you shoot on my birthday?” When Webb responded that he did not know Hopla’s birthday, Hopla said, “It doesn’t matter. If you shot every day, then you shot on my birthday.”

And all the while the shots kept coming from Hopla. At 437 shots within the hour, that’s an average of 7.3 shots per minute. Nonstop talking and almost non-stop shooting at the same time. Many shots swished. Some hit the rim and dropped in. Occasionally there was a fortuitous bounce that allowed the shot to go in. And, on the nine very rare occasions when the ball did not fall through the net, it was jarring.

I don’t shoot too often these days, but occasionally I will go out to the driveway to shoot at the basket that I put in for my two sons. I still usually start with my same routine of ten shots from the foul line and do that once or twice before moving around the court a bit.

I’ve always loved numbers too. I’m thinking that I should shoot 50 next time and see how many I can make. Maybe get a little notebook and keep track every time I shoot? Hmmmm.

This article first appeared in the July 6, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.

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