CHICAGO — In a town made basketball-famous by perhaps the greatest player of all time, a 9-year-old St. George girl is hoping to leave her mark on the game as well.
And while Raylee Ross is no Michael Jordan, she has one shot on the hardcourt down pat: the free throw.
Ross will be shooting in Saturday’s Elks National Hoop Shot Finals, with a chance to take home a title to Utah. Does she care about the title? Well, yes and no.
“Her biggest thing was when she found out if she won regionals they would pay for her and her parents to fly to Chicago for the Finals,” said Raylee’s dad, Kevin. “She’d never been on an airplane, so that got her really excited.”
Raylee is not a prototypical shooter, who has been drilled by an overbearing parent.
“She’s just a regular girl,” Kevin Ross said. “She’s athletic and very aggressive for a girl. She plays a lot of sports and she’s very competitive. And I guess she has a natural ability to shoot the basketball.”
Raylee’s class at Crimson View Elementary was asked if there was anyone that wanted to try a free throw shooting contest. Raylee and a few of her classmates competed and she beat them all. Badly.
“She just kicked butt,” Kevin Ross said. “She beat everybody and so they gave her a form so she could go compete with the rest of the St. George competitors at Dixie State.”
Raylee won again, then beat all competitors in the district competition in Cedar City. From there, it was on to the state competition in Provo. Another Raylee win.
At the next level, the Western Regionals in Las Vegas, Raylee hit her first bump in the road. After hitting a below-her-average 19 free throws (out of 25) in the championship round of the Regional, she had to sweat it out as another competitor had a chance to beat her. It ended up being a tie, with both girls making 19 of 25 attempts. That meant sudden death rounds of five free throws each. Whichever competitor made more would advance to the national Finals.
“I knew she would do well,” Kevin Ross said. “She does super well under pressure.”
Raylee went first and made four out of five. The other girl wilted under the intense pressure of the crowd, judges and the sudden death scenario, making just one charity shot.
“For whatever reason, she thrives when the pressure is on,” Kevin Ross said. “I think she’ll do well at Nationals.”
There’s a basketball legend about an old, overweight sports writer who, as part of a story he was working on, challenged Michael Jordan to a game of H-O-R-S-E. Supposedly the writer then made every shot he attempted and Jordan was left to begrudgingly admit that he’d been beaten.
A similar scenario happened to Raylee with an internet blogger, who challenged the young girl to a free throw shooting contest.
Taking turns, Raylee and the writer shot groups of five free throws, totaling 25. The writer wasn’t bad and made about 70 percent of his shots. As for Raylee?
“She made them all,” her dad said.
So, maybe Raylee’s no Michael Jordan. But then, Michael Jordan’s no Raylee either, is he?
Note for results: Raylee and her parents, Kevin and Andrea, flew to Chicago Thursday with the competition taking place potentially all day Saturday. For results from the event, check the Elks Hoops Shoot website. The Elks Hoop Shoot is a national free throw contest that provides youth ages 8 to 13 an opportunity to compete, connect and succeed through hard work and healthy competition. Six winners from each of the 12 Regions will compete at the Hoop Shoot National Finals held on April 16, 2016, in Chicago, Ill., home of the Elks headquarters. You can also find results from the competition on Twitter #HoopShoot.
Editor’s note: Raylee Ross competed well in the Elks National Hoop Shoot Finals. She made 7 of 10 free throws in the opening round, then buried 13 of 15 to close out the day. Her total of 20 out of 25 placed her in fourth place overall in the girls 8-9 Division. The winner, Samantha Griebel of Punxsutawney, Penn., made 23 of 25 and then hit 19 of 20 in a shoot-off with Justice Midyett of Paducah, Ken.
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