PEORIA – Wheaton Academy sophomore boys basketball player Josh Ruggles opened his round in Thursday’s Class 3A Three-Point Showdown state final prelims at Carver Arena by swishing his first five 3s.
He closed his turn by making seven in row, finishing with 13 out of 15 makes and entering this afternoon’s four-man finals on a roll.
Admittedly antsy when he took the floor for his 45 seconds of fame, Ruggles immediately released his butterflies as soon as he let fly.
“Hitting that first shot really relieves your nerves,” he said. “After that, it’s just grab and shoot, and it really gets easier on yourself.”
Ruggles traveled home to Wheaton shortly after shooting Thursday evening and planned to leave for today’s 1:45 p.m. Class 3A finals this morning. Turns out the commute was necessary for his preparation; the family has a regulation basket beneath their basement, an area with 18-foot ceilings that spans just less than half the court.
After traveling to Freeport for the sectional Showdown round – he made 12 shots there – Ruggles is used to a routine of occasional fidgeting during his rides.
“They’re long enough where the whole time I’m not thinking about it. I can take a little pre-competition nap along the way,” Ruggles said. “But once you get about 20 minutes away, you start starting thinking about it.”
St. Charles East sophomore Cole Gentry, Ruggles’ former AAU teammate, charted his friend’s explosion while hoping to be part of the 4A championship field. Gentry made nine 3s, and would have been in the championship entering the fourth and final preliminary round of eight shooters. Two shooters had 10 and nine, respectively, at that point.
Bradley-Bourbonnais’ Bennet Schimmelpfenning and Mundelein’s Quinn Pokora thwarted Gentry’s bid to advance when they both scored 11.
“It was cool to get here and experience it, but I was kind of disappointed to drive all the way out to Peoria and not make it,” Gentry said.
St. Charles North junior Alec Goetz (six) and Batavia senior Mike Rueffer (five) also competed in the 4A prelims. Gentry said he and Goetz – who struck a quick friendship while talking before their sectional round – planned to remain in Peoria for today’s 3A and 4A state semifinal games.
Aurora Central Catholic junior Sean Harreld made seven 3s in his preliminary round in 3A.