Aspiring Basketball Stars Head to Suburban Westchester, Where the ‘Shot Doctor’ Is In
John Goldman relies on geometry and practice to help players from NBA star Elton Brand to actor Elliott Gould
Cimmino first heard about Goldman a decade ago and decided to bring him into the Mount Vernon gym. Goldman laid out his cones, and the players dribbled through them and shot. As time went on, they would start to ask Cimmino when “The Doc” was coming in next. Some of Mount Vernon’s younger kids wanted to know when they would get a chance to work with him. “He wasn’t looking for money,” Cimmino said. “He wasn’t looking to jumpstart a college career or to take players anywhere with him. All he was looking for were young folks to teach.”
One of Cimmino’s players, Jabarie Hinds—a college guard who this year transferred from West Virginia to the University of Massachusetts—became addicted to the drills. Hinds still works out with Goldman and still calls him. The very first thing he’s always asked is: “How’s your shot?”
No matter how good the players are when they arrive, there are always misses at first, and then Goldman shoots them that question: Where’d you miss? The question is posed to them in a blistering New York accent that makes him seem taller than he is.
“The first time I showed up, he gave me a ball and asked me to dribble,” said Matt Townsend, a chiseled 6-foot-7 sophomore forward from Yale who’s been working with Goldman for six years now. “He then said, ‘Your dribble sucks’ and put me to work. He jokes now that when I first came to him the only thing I had was a decent righty layup.”
On a sweltering day last July, Goldman had four patients dribbling and shooting in his driveway. One, Sofia Roman—a sophomore guard at Dartmouth—had a jump shot clank off the rim. Goldman reflexively threw her the question she’d heard hundreds of times in the month she’d been working with him and that she’d begun asking herself every time the ball left her fingertips but didn’t follow the trajectory she’d expected.
“To the left,” Roman replied as sweat dripped down from her forehead and onto her hands. Goldman waddled—he does this more than he walks—over to fix the placement of her right foot. The needle on the temperature clock above the garage toward the back end of the court toed 100 degrees, but Roman had no desire to take a break. She was in Chappaqua at the behest of Belle Koclanes, her coach at Dartmouth.
Koclanes is a former pupil of Goldman and credits him with helping her earn a basketball scholarship to the University of Richmond nearly 15 years ago, despite the fact that she is just 5 feet tall. Under Goldman’s tutelage, Koclanes learned how to dribble around bigger players and shoot over them. At Richmond, she used to line up her own set of cones to practice with. One time, she says, the coach of the men’s basketball team was walking through the gym and found himself completely enamored with what Koclanes was doing. He asked her about it, told her he had never seen anything like it before and that he the loved the idea. The coach’s name was John Beilein. He is now the head basketball coach at Michigan; last year, his Wolverines made it to the National Championship game.
These days, Goldman has business cards and T-shirts advertising his nickname. “He just always wants kids to be given the opportunity to realize their potential,” said Goldman’s son Bruce. Basketball offered Goldman confidence, unexpected friendships, and happiness; all he wants now is to open the same doors for the next generation of players. To the Shot Doctor, it just takes recognizing a simple thing like where you missed.
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