Worland boy with ties to Powell aims for national free-throw title
WORLAND — A Worland boy with roots in Powell will compete for a national free-throw shooting title this month.
Court Gonsalez, 9, is headed to the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Mass., to compete in the Elks Hoop Shoot national competition on April 12.
Court is an appropriate name for a basketball hotshot, although the fact his father John DeLeon is a lawyer also played a part in the choice, according to Court’s mother, Powell native Rosa Gonsalez.
Rosa Gonsalez is a 1993 Powell High School graduate; she played basketball for the Lady Panthers. Court’s grandparents Frank and Tula Gonsalez live in Powell.
Court, who was then 8, finished in fourth place while competing in the 8- 9-year-old division at the 2013 regional competition in Denver. Only the winner advances to the national competition.
After not qualifying for the chance at a national title, Court was inconsolable and promised that he would practice for as long as it took to win the competition the following year.
On March 8, in Denver for the second year in a row, he made good on his promise. He won the West Central Region 8 competition and advanced to the finals. Youth shooters take aim from four feet inside the traditional charity stripe and use a girls’ basketball.
“I was very excited,” Court said. “That was my goal, and I want to be exactly like (my cousin) Tommi.”
In 2009, his cousin Tommi Olson won the national competition as a 9-year-old. Now Court will attempt to follow in her footsteps by winning the competition at the same age.
“I would feel good if I could win because it would mean I was just as good as her,” he said. “I want to be just like her.”
“He was asked, ‘Who are your favorite athletes?’” Rosa said. “He said Tommi Olson, Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry, in that order. Yes, it is very clear that he inspired by her. When he practices, he practices ‘her moves’ that he’s watched her do when playing.
“We practice her drills and he’s adopted the rule of not leaving the gym until he swishes five free throws in a row,” she said. “I’ve never met a little boy so inspired by a female athlete. He always says he has a ‘real-life hero.’”
Tommi, 14, is moving to Lonetree, Colo., to play for a 5A school known for its girls’ basketball program. For the past three summers, she has attended a Tennessee Lady Vols camp for elite young players.
Rosa said Tommi has received letters expressing interest in her from eight Division I schools, including North Carolina, Wichita State and Villanova.
“She’s super amazing,” Rosa said.
Tommi has also been very supportive of her cousin.
“She has been to all of his competitions this year,” his proud mother said. “When he knew he was going to a shootout he looked at her and she put her hand up and whispered, ‘It’s yours to take.’ He shook his head yes.
“He was asked what was the best part of the competition in Denver — winning? Getting his trophy? All the people? He said, ‘When I knew I won I looked at Tommi and she smiled.’”
Court has been nearly perfect at every competition he has attended. He won the district competition in Worland by making 24 of 25 free throws. He again made 24 shots at the state competition.
In Denver for the regional competition, Gonsalez made 23 of 25 attempts and finished in a tie. With the pressure at its peak, Gonsalez made five out of five free throws to advance.
That’s 76 makes in 80 shots, or 95 percent shooting.
“The tie-breaker was easy for me,” he said. “Once I finish my set (of free throws) I always shoot five more, and I always make five out of five. If I don’t, I’m having a bad day.”
Basketball, and sports in general, is a major part of Court’s life. His mom said he has been practicing hoops for 90 minutes a day seven days a week since November.
He practiced 90 minutes twice a week for his basketball team and another 90 minutes twice a week for his soccer team, where his coaches call him “Pitch,” a reference to the name of the surface where that game is played.
But next week, when he toes the line to shoot free throws with a chance at claiming a national title, all eyes will be on a deadeye kid named Court. To wish him well, go to http://www.elks.org/hoopshoot/greetings.cfm
— Thomas Watson of Northern Wyoming Daily News in Worland contributed to this report.