He Goes Bounce, Bounce, Bounce, Swish 598 Times Back

From the Syracuse Post Standard, January 13, 1976. (C) 1976, Newsday.

CANTON - At half-past five on the afternoon of Dec. 11, 17-year-old Hal Cohen stepped to the free-throw line in the Canton High School gym in Upstate New York and entered that province between mind and body where everything feels effortless."I just felt I couldn't miss," Cohen recalled the other day.
"I'd take three dribbles and. . .shoot."

So The Streak began — a remarkable run of swishes and bounds, as it would turn out — just moments after coach Jerry Hourihan halted practice and left his team to its rituals, the 25 free throws to end the practice day. Standing on the line, Cohen calmly sank his 25 shots, and with confidence and concentration he sensed the rhythms coming together."After 25,1 really had a good feeling," Cohen recalled. "I was in a groove."

The groove was magic. With a young female member of the swimming team retrieving the shots, Cohen simply would dribble three times and let fly. Soon the total was climbing past 100, then past 110, 120 and beyond. Cohen was sinking consecutive free throws at a rate of about seven a minute, about one every
eight seconds. Teammates, finished at the line, stood watching behind Cohen as the numbers rose to 140, to 150, and on to 160. Hourihan had left the gym before the streak began, waiting for Cohen to finish and dress so they could attend a college game together, and returned looking for him 20 minutes later.

"Hal was still shooting fouls," Hourihan said. "As I came into the gym. 1 was going to say something quietly to him, like, 'Let's go. Hal, we're late.' but our other co captain, Bob McKenney. he said to me, "Coach, Hal's got a streak going". I said, "How many?". McKenney said, "A hundred and sixty."

If that utterance would have floored the average college or professional coach, it didn't faze Hourihan, who had grown accustomed to such things from the 6-1 senior. "He's sharp," Hourihan said. "He had shot 109 in a row and 110 in a row another time. This kid's unusual. He's scored 53 points in one game and on several occasions sank 40 or more. He averaged 35 points a game last year."

Still. 160 was 50 more than Cohen had ever sank in succession, so Hourihan remained silent, the only humane thing to do, and then did the next best thing, "I'll sit down" Hourihan said.

"At one point Hal turned to me and said, "Coach, you want to go?" I said, 'No, shoot if you wish. Needless to say, I didn't know I'd be there another hour. I was amazed at his relaxed state. He customarily takes three bounces before he shoots, and every time - bing, bing. bing, up.'

The count rose to more than 300, and by then it was past six o'clock and members of other Canton school teams were heading to the showers through the gym, the swimmers and wrestlers stopped to ask what was happening. "People started drifting into the gym." McKenney said. "By the time he hit 300, there were about 75 people around. They held up all the sports buses; even the drivers were inside watching it."

None of this bothered Cohen, however, though he heard the quiet filling of the gym. "I knew there were people there." he said. "But I didn't want to turn around and jinx myself. I could feel the tension. I could hear people come into the gym and say, you know, 'He's got a streak going. Be quiet."

The number continued rising, with the arc and fall of the ball, past 400 in a row. past 450 and on toward 500. Hourihan and others in the gym were under the mistaken impression that the world record was 499, so when Cohen drilled his 500th consecutive free throw of the night, Hourihan approached him."Hal, are you tired?" Hourihan asked him.

"No" Cohen said.

"We have a ball game in a couple of days.' Hourihan said."Do you have any blisters?" He didn't. "You want to shoot some more?" "Let me keep going," Hal Cohen said.

Beat and swish of the ball went on, the count continued to mount through an 80-shot streak, from 500 to 580, in which the ball never touched the rim. As Cohen neared 600, Hourihan sensed fatigue by the expression on Cohen's face. It was becoming a long night at Canton High, almost an hour and a half of free-throw shooting."My calves inside were really stiff and tired," Cohen said."My arms weren't that tired, but my hands were, like, tight."

Cohen remembers the end of the streak in detail. He had just made his 598th free throw. Going for 599 he bounded the ball three times and lofted it like the others."1 thought it was going in." he said. "The ball hit the front of the rim, then hit the back of the rim and rolled off the front." The 100 or so spectators erupted in cheers as the ball dropped out of the hoop, with many thinking the hometown boy had a world's record. According to the latest Guinness Book of Records, however, Ted St. Martin of Jacksonville, FL. sank 1,704 consecutive free throws on Feb. 28, 1975. But St. Martin, 41, is a special case. He runs basketball clinics, gives tips to pros on free-throw shooting and sets free-throw records to promote his enterprises.

"I shoot free throws for a living," St. Martin said. St. Martin said he believes that no American, aside from himself, has sunk more consecutive free throws than Hal Cohen that night in Canton High, and he regards the young man as the principal threat to his record. Cohen, for his part, was hardly moved by the feat. As they left the gym together. Hourihan said to Cohen: "Hal. do you want the ball?"

And Cohen shrugged and said. "What the heck do I want the ball for?"