Like every great free-throw shooter, Ian McManus goes through an identical routine before delivering the basketball to its intended target.
In Ian’s case, he dribbles the ball twice, then quickly raises it from chest level to the top of his head in one elegant motion. In classic style, Ian uses his left hand as a guide and his right to wrist-flick the ball into its arc.
“I think of the image of the ball going into the goal,” said Ian, a sixth grader at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Slidell.
The ritual seems to be working well for Ian, 11.
As a 9-year old in 2012, he progressed all the way to the National Elks “Hoop Shoot” contest in Springfield, Mass., competing as one of just 60 finalists in his 8- & 9-year old boys’ division. Ian had to win a string of contests to get there: the local competition in Slidell; the state championship in Opelousas; and the Southwest regionals in Dallas, where he sank an incredible 22 out of 25 free throws.
“I just had a burning feeling that I really wanted to win,” said Ian of his ascent in the 2012 season.
Although he didn’t place in the 2012 nationals and failed to progress beyond the local contest in 2013, Ian is on a roll again this year. At the 2014 Slidell Elks contest in January, he won his 10- & 11-year old boys’ division by sinking 20 out of 25 shots. He will vie for the state championship in Opelousas at the end of this month, with hopes of going all the way to Springfield again.
“I think I’ve shot better this year than in any other year, honestly,” said Ian, an Our Lady of Lourdes altar server who is a forward on his school’s JV basketball team and a member of the flag football and tennis teams. “Being a good shooter takes lots of practice – lots and lots of practice.”
In this spirit, Ian shoots free throws every day after school, either at his home court or at Our Lady of Lourdes’ gym. To simulate contest conditions, he and his father measured the distance from their home goal to the free-throw line, placing a chalk mark on the ground. The McManus family also installed a ball-return device on their goal that returns the ball to the shooter if a shot is made.
Ian’s trademark smooth release was taught to him by his father, Shawn McManus, who is no stranger to the free throw. Slidell-raised McManus won three local and two state Elks free-throw titles between 1975-77. Ian’s uncle, Brad McManus, also became something of a Slidell legend in 1971 when he made all 25 free throws in the local contest.
“(The officials) let him keep on shooting and he made 36 in a row,” Ian said. In yet another family achievement, Ian’s older sister, Breana, won the 2010 Slidell Elks contest as a 12-year-old, missing out on the state title by a single shot.
“Usually, before the competition, I always see people who look good at basketball playing,” Ian said. “It gets me kind of nervous, but I always think – my dad told me this a little while ago – ‘If they keep on shooting three-pointers before the match, they’ll be tired and they won’t be able to shoot as well.’”
In addition to honing his mental game, Ian stays physically energized by eating lots of grapes, apples, pineapple and broccoli.
“I try to swish (my free throws). I don’t like banking because it’s kind of like luck for me,” Ian said. “If I go on a streak of (making) five shots, I know I’m just gonna keep on going and making them.”