CHICAGO — Everyone that plays has one.
Jason Kidd blew a kiss to the goal. Jeff Hornacek rubbed his cheek in tribute to his children. Gilbert Arenas spun the ball behind his back.
Kaelsy Wiltbank’s ritual at the free throw line isn’t as intricate, but it is effective. Wiltbank spins the ball in front of her, takes two dribbles, one more spin and then release.
Wiltbank’s sure stroke has landed her in the Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals in Chicago.
The Moses Lake native won shooting competitions at the local, district and state level before sinking 22 of 25 attempts at the Northwest Regional Semifinals.
“It’s the most anxiety I’ve ever felt (as a parent),” said Kaelsy’s dad Brady Wiltbank. “You feel for these shooters out there.”
Kaelsy made her first 10 attempts during the regional semifinals, putting the pressure on her opponents for the final 15. With the win, Kaelsy will fly to Chicago in to compete in the national finals on April 27.
Kaelsy, now a sixth-grader at Frontier Middle School, began playing basketball in third grade and first competed in the Hoop Shoot as a fourth-grader.
“She couldn’t even hit the rim then,” Brady said.
Kaelsy began shooting each morning before school to improve and was the first of her siblings to advance past the state level of competition.
Kaelsy is one of 72 competitors that advanced to the national finals. She will have an opportunity to be one of six national champions — one boy and one girls from three age groups — and have her name inscribed on the Hoop Shoot plaque in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.