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Carleton Women's Hoops Features Rare Ambidextrous 'Switch Shooter'

January 30, 2014 at 9:43 pm
By Chris Long, KSTP-TV

Michele Arima, Women's Basketball, Action

(This story originally aired on KSTP-TV [St. Paul, Minn.] on Jan. 28, 2014. The video clip is available at the end of this piece.)

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Switch-hitters in baseball are common, but you'd be hard pressed to find many switch-shooters in basketball. 

We found one in Carleton College sophomore guard Michele Arima.

When the Valencia, California native was nine years old, her youth coach noticed her tendency to switch from using her right hand to using her left hand as she got farther away from the basket.

"We were kind of confused," Arima says. "I started shooting more left-handed from the outside, so (my coach) asked my mom, "Did you know your daughter is ambidextrous."

After years practicing with both hands, Arima now shoots free throws and short jumpers with her right hand - but goes with her left hand for three-pointers.

Carleton College's sports information department has searched far-and-wide and among 20-thousand women currently playing college basketball at various levels, they haven't found one that can "switch-shoot" like Michelle.

Michele is naturally right-handed, using her right hand for nearly everything aside from long-distance shooting.

However, she says she can write with both hands - even mirroring what her right hand is writing with her left - but says she is more comfortable and legible with her right hand.

The rarity of a switch-shooter immediately struck 4th-year Knights coach Cassie Kosiba.

"Three years ago when I was recruiting Michele, I caught myself while watching game tape," she explains. "Michele was shooting a jumper and free throws and I was like, 'okay, she's a righty' - because coaches are always looking for a lefty for their team. Then all of the sudden she shot a three and I had to rewind it.  I said, 'I swear she just shot with the right hand!'."

In her second season at Carleton, Michele's 10.3 points per game are second among Knights players.

Her 30 three-pointers this season - shot left-handed - rank her fourth among all MIAC players.  Her 84.6% free throw rate - shot right-handed - would be good enough for 4th in the MIAC, but she falls just below the minimum number of attempts to qualify.

Michele is in good company. "The Ambidextrous Page" at Stanford University says Albert Einstein, Benjamin Frankin, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, President Harry Truman and Queen Victoria are famous names who were ambidextrous.

In sports, while plenty of activities require some use of both hands, few have the ability to perform highly specialized skills like shooting a basketball with both-handed proficiency.

Nearly every basketball player is taught to use both hand for layups, but dominant hands typically take over once a shooter backs away from the basket.

In the NBA - Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley are among those who can shoot with either hand - but they generally prefer one to the other.  Kevin Durant is known for being able to dribble, dunk and pass well with either hand, and DeAndre Jordan - a lefty - shoots with his left hand, but goes with his right hand for his highlight reel dunks.

WNBA star Candace Parker is also ambidextrous.

LeBron James is right-hand dominant on the court - dunking, shooting and preferring to pass with his right hand - despite writing with his left hand.

One remarkable ambidextrous pro athlete is former Major League Baseball relief pitcher Billy Wagner.  He was a natural righty in his youth but after breaking his right arm twice, taught himself to use his left arm by throwing fastballs against a wall.  His left hand routinely delivered 100+ mph pitches which rank him 5th all-time on the MBL career saves list.

NL Hall-of-Famer Gordie Howe is also among the ambidextrous, one of very few pro hockey players to shoot both right and left-handed.  Howe played in an era when stick blades were flat, which allowed him to "switch-shoot".

Michele admits her ambidexterity catches opponents by surprise.

"Some teams don't even notice," she says. "They'll say, 'Oh, she's left-handed', but then I'll go right and pull up a jumper and then - well they don't say much of anything after that because they're so confused."

But it's not only the opponents left guessing at times.

"Sometimes I do get confused," Michele admits with a laugh. "I'll just overthink it. I'll pull up a shot and think left hand but then be like... 'nope!".  It happens.  But I feel like it's a good skill to have."

There is one other small drawback that you may not think of.  Say players are being told in practice to shoot one hundred jumpers.

"I'll do 100 shots with the right hand and 100 shots with the left," Michele says.

Doesn't that mean she's working twice as hard?

"Basically," she smiles.

Just don't fall for it if you're playing a game of "HORSE" against Michele and she calls for an 'off-handed shot'.

"I do it all the time," she confides. "...and I pull up a left-handed three pointer on 'em."