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High School Sports
Basketball shooting machine helps players develop touch

Sunday, January 05, 2003

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Michael Jordan bought his kids a "Gun" for Christmas. Seriously. He thinks some practice might help their shooting. And get this: He actually lets them play with the thing in the house. Jordan might even fool around with it right in front of the kids.

Upper St. Clair Coach Danny Holzer watches as his players use the shooting machine at practice. (Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette)

But Jordan's "Gun" doesn't deal with bullets or shells. We're talking about a "Gun" with basketballs.

The official name of what Jordan bought is "The Gun," a new electric basketball shooting machine that has made an Ohio man rich and has become a popular buy for NBA, college and many high school teams.

John Joseph, 43, of Sandusky, Ohio, invented the machine, which enables a shooter to take as many as 200 shots in 10 minutes. A father of four daughters, Joseph attended Ohio State decades ago, majored in agriculture and used to sell farming equipment. It wasn't easy to make ends meet. But he has hit it big with "The Gun," which is part of his Shoot-A-Way company.

Joseph has two different models of "The Gun" that cost $3,850 or $4,350. The cheaper displays only shots taken. The more expensive one displays shots taken, makes and shooting percentage.

Last year, Joseph sold more than 1,100 machines.

"I don't know exactly what he makes, but I think he's a millionaire with the thing," said Blackhawk boys' coach John Miller, who is "The Gun" representative for Pennsylvania.

In the past two years, dozens of WPIAL teams have purchased "The Gun." Upper St. Clair, Plum, Chartiers Valley, North Hills, Rochester, Norwin, Mars, Blackhawk, North Allegheny, Knoch, Center, Hampton, Fox Chapel and Shenango are some of the schools that bought the machine. At many of the schools, booster clubs bought the machine or at least paid for some of it.

"I think it's definitely helped our team," said Upper St. Clair Coach Danny Holzer, whose team is ranked No. 1 in WPIAL Class AAAA by the Post-Gazette. "We're shooting 47 percent as a team this year and close to 40 percent from 3-point range. That's the best we've shot since I've been coaching here."

The crux of the "The Gun" is that it passes basketballs to a shooter, much like a pitching machine in baseball. "The Gun" can zip passes to a shooter as fast as every two seconds and a player can take 200 shots in 10 minutes.

Part of "The Gun" is a big net that surrounds the basket. In order to get the ball over the net, a shooter must have good arch on his shot.

"It's terrific at developing good arch," Miller said. "Then after a while, your shot just becomes muscle memory."

Whether the shot is made or missed, the ball goes into the net and then into the machine. The machine can handle up to seven balls at a time. Shooters can adjust the timing of the passes from two seconds to 10 seconds, if they want to shoot free throws. Passes can go from 15 to 35 feet.

The other good part of the machine is that it can be set to throw passes to different spots. For example, the first pass might be the top of the key, the next one to the wing and the next one to the corner. This way, a shooter is catching a pass on the move.

Pitt has "The Gun," but uses it mostly in the off-season. Many high school coaches use it only in the off-season, but some during the season. It takes only minutes to set up and Miller uses the machine at almost every practice.

Two years ago, Duquesne University bought two "Guns." Duquesne Coach Danny Nee said the machine can help make a player's shooting ability considerably.

"We're probably in close to 80 percent of major colleges and about 75 percent of pro teams," Joseph said. "The thing has just caught on like wild fire."

The highlight of all sales, though, was the one to Jordan. The machine was delivered to Jordan's Chicago home, where he has a gymnasium. One of the Washington Wizards assistant coaches called Joseph a few months ago.

"He told me Michael was using the machine a lot and liked it so much that he wanted one for his kids for a Christmas present," Joseph said. "That was probably the mountain-top experience in this thing because I literally got laughed at when I started with this thing."

The precursor to "The Gun" was Joseph's "Shoot-A-Way" machine. This was a device much like "The Gun," but wasn't electric. Shots went into a net and down a ramp of metal bars. Joseph invented the "Shoot-A-Way" in the early 1980s, but it didn't sell like "The Gun."

Joseph is a friend of Miller, the longtime Blackhawk coach. Miller was one of the first to use the "Shoot-A-Way."

"It was nice, but after a while I started saying, 'John, you have to come up with something electric that will shoot the balls at you,'" Miller said. "I figured if you can do it with a baseball pitching machine, why can't you do it with basketballs. Next thing you know, he built one. The guy really is a genius."

About four years ago, Joseph built the first "Gun." He gave it to Miller and told him to use it until it broke -- and it did in about a month. Joseph tinkered with parts and then gave away a few machines to colleges. The first one he sold was to Coach Billy Donovan and the University of Florida.

"The thing about it is that the kids really like to use it because it's fun to use," Holzer said.

Nowadays, Joseph has a warehouse in Sandusky that has 15 employees.

"We try to make seven machines a day," he said.

He also has representatives around the country. His Indiana rep is former Purdue sharpshooter Rick Mount. Four years ago, Joseph sold 200 of the machines. His sales have practically doubled every year since. The machines come with a one-year warranty, but lasts much longer.

Last year, Joseph gave away a free "Gun" to the biggest success story associated with his machine. It went to Sangre de Cristo High School in Mosca, Colo. Sangre de Cristo had been to the state playoffs only five times in 48 years, but Coach Troy Geiser won a state championship in 2001 with a team that didn't have one player taller than 6 feet. The team was excellent in 3-point shooting.

"We didn't win because of 'The Gun,' but we would have never won without it," Geiser said. "Our 3-point shooting went way up. We had one kid [Kevin Prior] shoot over 20,000 shots on the machine in a year and he hit the game-winning shot in the state semifinals. This year, we have a kid [Ramon Gutierez] shooting 54 percent from 3-point range."

Joseph chuckles at what has happened to him because of a basketball shooting machine.

"I still wear jeans with holes in them and still wear cowboy boots," he said. "I'm the same person. I just never really knew this thing would take off like this."

Mike White can be reached at mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.

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