It’s official. Lake Wales resident James Stafford is the best 11 year-old free throw shooter in the state of Florida. After winning the free throw competition in the city of Lake Wales, Stafford moved on to the District Competition. After winning Districts, he competed in the Regional Final, which was held on Feb. 16 in Lake Placid, Florida.
“It was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been about something,” said Stafford of his experience competing at Regionals. Stafford was one of three boys competing in the regional competition. Each contestant got 25 free throw attempts. “There’s actually chairs at half court and you sit there while one of the other competitors shoot. I was so nervous when I was sitting in the chair. I just kept tapping my shoes. I couldn’t sit still. It was impossible to sit still,” said Stafford.
Yet despite all the nerves, Stafford made 23 shots out of the 25, making him the winner of the regional competition. This was Stafford’s third time competing in the State free throw contest. “I guess what sort of set me off was the kid from Miami. He beat me two years earlier because I got sick before the competition,” said Stafford.
A rematch was in store for Stafford. “Obviously I ended up seeing him there again and the shirt that he wore to the competition really sort of ticked me off. It was like he was bragging. His shirt said ‘Watch Me Win’. That set me off so I guess that sort of got me to keep my composure while I was shooting,” said Stafford.
Though Stafford is only 11 years old, he shoots from the same distance that college players shoot from. Twenty-three out of 25 shots is an outstanding accomplishment that many college players cannot even contest to.
“I sort of got into basketball by watching the Orlando Magic play basketball. I watched Dwight Howard and I learned how to shoot by watching the players form when they shot. No one really taught me, I just copied the players off NBA and eventually got into basketball so I started shooting a lot,” said Stafford.
Stafford has about three weeks to prepare for the Southeastern Regional competition, which will consist of seven contestants from each state in the southeastern region. Stafford shoots 200 foul shots in about 45 minutes every single day for practice. The competition will be held on March 16 at Valdosta State University. If Stafford wins, he will advance to the ultimate national championship competition. “I think I’m capable of going to Nationals. It’d be an amazing accomplishment. It’d be awesome. If I want to get picked by a college team, I could put that on my resume,” said Stafford.