3 brothers take a shot with basketball invention

Posted: December 26, 2001

Lou had many good qualities, but he clearly could not shoot a basketball.

This was clear, on occasion, to Lou himself, and it was definitely clear to the guys who played on the other teams. But it was clearest of all to Andrew Kirkpatrick, who would set up his playground friend for open shots only to see those shots thud on the backboard or clang noisily against the side of the rim.

"He used to rag on me all the time," Lou Valente said, "and then he came around with this crazy rubber band."

Everyone has a purpose in life, and it might be that Valente will be remembered as the inspiration for "The Shooting Buddy," a training device that Kirkpatrick invented on his own and developed with the help of his two brothers. Valente gets the assist only for the original idea.

The Shooting Buddy has gone through several stages of product development in the six years since the prototype, but Kirkpatrick thinks it is ready for the market. It is patented, and production is going full-tilt, sort of, on the sewing machine of Mary Mozzoni, who happens to be Kirkpatrick's mother-in-law.

Matt Brady, an assistant coach at St. Joseph's University, has tried out the Shooting Buddy on some of the Hawks' players, getting favorable results, and three copies were recently shipped to Cornell coach Steve Donahue, a former Penn assistant, who also expects the device to work.

"I think it's a very valid training apparatus," Brady said. "I'm a guy who spends a lot of time with our guys and their shooting, generally without any aids. But this would be worth the investment from my point of view. I can't speak to the long-term benefit, but it certainly does what it's supposed to do."

What it does is remind the shooter to keep the elbow of his shooting arm close to the body so that the forearm describes a vertical line when the ball is released. It sounds simple, but it wasn't so simple for Lou.

"While I was trying to coach him, I noticed that every time he missed a shot, his elbow was flying out to the side," Kirkpatrick said. "I would smack it back with my hand, and he would make five shots in a row. Then his elbow would start wandering out again, and he would start bricking. So I started thinking about how I could help him."

Kirkpatrick tried big rubber bands and bungee cords attached to weightlifter's belts. He tried surgical tubing and the leash from a Boogie board. He was getting close, but he needed some help with fine-tuning. And that's where brothers Ted and Bob entered the picture.

All three of the brothers played basketball at Springfield (Delco) High, with varying degrees of success. Ted, who is 37, would go on to set scoring records at Dickinson College. Andrew, 33, played one year at Widener and one year at Penn State-Delco. Bob, 40, was always more of a lacrosse player but could hold his own in the playground basketball leagues as well.

"Basically, we sat down and talked to Andrew about his idea," Ted Kirkpatrick said. "We know the mechanics of shooting and wanted to give him some support and feedback. One of the major reasons a guy shoots left or right is a flying elbow. If you keep it in, that cuts down on the variability to the left and right. Then it's up to the shooter on touch, whether the shot is long or short.

"[The Shooting Buddy is] really similar to some of the golfing apparatus out there. You put it on and you feel weird, but it gets you in the right position. And after you practice with it over time, that's where the muscle memory comes in."

Ted Kirkpatrick, who works with Andrew at Vanguard Group, helped refine the device. The current model has an elastic band with a clip at one end that attaches to the player's shorts and a small cuff at the other end that encircles the elbow.

"It's pretty cool, and it seems to do what it says it does," said Scott Abdul Salam, the director of accessories and licensing for AND1, the sports equipment and apparel company in Paoli. "I gave them some advice about testing with focus groups and seeing what kind of interest they can drum up."

Salam would consider handling the product if the interest was there, but the Kirkpatricks have to do the legwork.

"They're good guys," Salam said. "We invite them over to play ball with us sometimes. I told them, 'Make it difficult for me to say no.' "

That's the next step.

The Shooting Buddy was patented with the aid of Bob Kirkpatrick, an engineer at Agilent Technologies who had done patent work in the past. Both of the older brothers have also provided financial support for the project, but, really, it's just a chance to be on the same team again.

"It's something we can do together, and we might learn something along the way," Bob Kirkpatrick said. "Andrew was always one of those far-out inventor types. He was always experimenting.

"The whole key to the Shooting Buddy is that it's so simple. Most devices are too complicated or bulky, nothing you'd actually use. This can be made simply, and it has a lot of marketing angles."

The brothers Kirkpatrick are hoping that word of mouth from the coaches they have gotten interested in the device will open some doors. They could set up tables at local clinics and spread the word. Of course, it wouldn't be so bad if a large company recognized their brilliance and scooped up the patent.

All of that remains to be seen, like the result of a jumper that looks so good as it leaves the hand and arcs toward the basket. For now, there is the idea and the execution and the promise - and, of course, Lou.

"I should get a big cut, but I doubt I'll see anything," said Valente, now a chef and restaurant owner in California who did learn something about his shooting.

"I don't play hoops at all anymore," he said.

Bob Ford's e-mail address is bford@phillynews.com.

For information on the Shooting Buddy, call 610-566-0714.

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