HILLS -- Few young basketball players work as hard as Preston Wilhelmi, who has made himself practically automatic at the free throw line for the Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots.
Wilhelmi can drain ‘em from anywhere on the floor. In fact, he once hit a buzzer-beater against the Adrian Dragons that emanated from well beyond the 3-point arc.
“The crowd went wild,” he recalled. “I was actually more surprised it went in than the other kids.”
He probably shouldn’t have been. Wilhelmi, now a senior, has been a blue-chip shooter for several years at H-BC. He has made 32 consecutive free throws in game action and holds the team record for free throw percentage, at 89 percent.
It doesn’t come by accident. The Patriot guard has practiced his shooting for long hours -- throughout the year -- since his junior high school days. In the offseason, he locates hoops at his house, at the park, at various gymnasiums, or, he says, wherever he can get access.
The Globe took a road trip to Hills recently to see Wilhelmi in action. We took him aside and asked him to toe the line for a free throw exhibition.
The best practitioners of their craft often hold to elaborate personal systems. A great hitter in baseball might tap one foot with the fat part of his bat, tap his other foot the same way, and point the bat at the pitcher before the ball is thrown. A great field goal kicker in football might take precisely five steps back from the spot of the hold, then three steps to the left -- every time. Wilhelmi has his own way of shooting free throws.
“I go with my right foot on the middle line and spread my feet a little bit. Two dribbles, and then I just shoot,” he said.
His Globe free throw exhibition was outstanding. One after another the free throws tickled the net. There was one attempt, however, that kissed the front part of the rim before it slid in. It was proof, perhaps, that Wilhelmi isn’t perfect. Just close.
This week’s The Drill feature takes a look at Preston Wilhelmi and his court craft. You can see the video online at www.dglobe.com. Here’s a sample of the interview:
QUESTION: How about the Hills-Beaver Creek boys basketball team this year? What’s the expectation for the team?
ANSWER: “We’re trying to run the floor and work on our free throws and defense and rebounding. Everybody’s trying to fit in the spot that they fit into, trying to work together and be the best team we can be.”
QUESTION: How much time would you say you practice your shooting during the offseason and during the season? Why do you do it?
ANSWER: “When I seriously started practicing was probably seventh or eighth-grade. I’d come home from school and practice till late at night. Just a love for the game, and I want to win, so I gotta be the best at it. During the offseason, every day I practice -- probably two, four hours a day. During the season, mostly (during) practice. Try to get ready for the game.”
QUESTION: So what’s the secret to being a free throw wizard?
ANSWER: “I’ve made 32 free throws in a row over a span of games, and I’ve got the high school record for percentage at 89 percent for a season. To make free throws is muscle memory, the same thing over and over.”