Free throw fanatic

Published 9:09 pm Thursday, March 25, 2010

Geneva resident Oakley Baker has become somewhat of a local celebrity lately because of his basketball exploits and now he’s about to garner some more attention.

Between his national Elks Hoop Shoot title last spring and a recent youtube video, Baker has run into a lot of people asking him basketball questions. He’s taken it in stride and will make a return trip to the national Elks Hoop Shoot contest in April.

“Between the shot and the hoop shot we always run into someone who talks about it,” said Oakley’s father Darian.

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Last year Oakley became the first Minnesota boy to win the national Elks Hoop Shoot contest when he won the 8 and 9-year-old competition and this year he returns to Springfield, Mass. April 22-25 for a chance to repeat as the national champion in the 10 and 11-year-old division, an accomplishment few have achieved.

Oakley made his first 25 attempts at the national competition last year, but so did Ryan Grice, a competitor from Slater, N.C. In a shoot-off Oakley made each of his five attempts to beat Grice, who made three.

Oakley advanced this year after three stages of competition. In Owatonna he made 22 of 25 free throws to advance to the regional competition. At the district competition in Austin he made 23 of 25 to move on to the state competition. At the state contest he made 23 of 25 in Hutchinson and earned his third consecutive trip to the North Central regional competition in Iowa City, Iowa.

After making just his seven of his first 10 free throws at the regional competition, Oakley said he started to feel pressured. But as he displayed last year at the national competition when made 30 consecutive free throws, including five in a shoot-off, he rose to the occasion. Oakley nailed his final 15 attempts to advance to the national competition.

Last year Oakley won the Getty Powell award, an award given to the top overall boy shooter, at the national competition and was flown to Portland, Ore. to give a speech about his experience through each stage.

The biggest concern for Oakley isn’t his form, Darian said, but instead it’s the mental part.

“When we’re practicing I can tell nine out of 10 if they’re going in right when they leave his hand,” Darian said.

The biggest thing is getting Oakley to slow down and not rush his shot, Darian said.

Oakley has also gotten a little more attention lately after he made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a tournament game in February. With three seconds left and his team down by three, Oakley unleashed a shot from about 75 feet that banked in off the backboard to send the game into overtime. His team went on to win the game and his shot was shown on KTTC in Rochester and posted on youtube.

“That was crazy,” Oakley said. “I got it, took three dribbles and then made it.”

The video almost never made its way to television or the Internet. A parent taping the game for Oakley’s team missed the final 30 seconds of regulation and overtime when the camera went on the fritz, but a family from Pine Island captured the shot and overtime and sent the video to KTTC and posted it on youtube.

“It was a lot of attention,” Oakley said.