Sights on Chi-town

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Courtesy photo Kamryn Pickford, left, and Deacon Kiesbuy will compete in the Elks Hoop Shoot national championships on Saturday at DePaul University in Chicago.

With one more shot, a pair of area youths have turned what looked as a setback into something special when it comes to the annual Elks Hoop Shoot.

In the case of Deacon Kiesbuy, a 11-year-old sixth-grade student from Woodland Middle School in Coeur d’Alene, he didn’t even make it out of the local hoop shoot, losing by a single shot.

However, the winner was unable to attend the district competition at Sunnyside Elementary School in Kellogg, and Kiesbuy jumped at the chance to get another chance.

“It wasn’t going to happen at all,” Kiesbuy said. “I’d stopped practicing and didn’t think about it again. I just started focusing on basketball season. I was really disappointed that I didn’t practice at all before (the local shoot).”

Once the phone rang that he was back in, Kiesbuy didn’t miss his second chance — hitting 25 of 25 free throws at districts — then advancing through regionals in Portland to nationals in the boys age 11-12 division.

“As soon as I knew, I was outside practicing and getting ready,” said Kiesbuy, who advanced to regionals last year. “I knew how much fun it was to get there and really wanted to get back there again.”

Meanwhile for Kamryn Pickford, a fifth-grade student at Skyway Elementary, after competing at districts, she had to leave immediately afterward to keep her commitment to her AAU basketball team, which had a tournament that same day in Spokane.

“I really didn’t think I’d be this far,” said Pickford, who also advanced to nationals in the girls 10-11 year-old division. “I just thought I’d get as far as the second round. I didn’t practice as much as I should have.”

The national finals will take place Saturday at DePaul University in Chicago. Pickford and Kiesbuy are two of five competitors from Idaho that advanced to nationals.

“It was a lot of fun to watch them compete in Portland,” said Tambra Pickford, Kamryn’s mother. “Watching them swim together and be around each other, they just all hit it off. Once they’re shooting, it’s cool to root for them. All of them are having the same experience and it’s fun to see.”

The news still hasn’t quite set in for Kiesbuy, who celebrates his 12th birthday today.

“For at least two weeks, I couldn’t believe I was going to Chicago,” Kiesbuy said. “In past years, (nationals) has been in (Springfield) Massachusetts (at the Basketball Hall of Fame), but this year, it’s in Chicago. I was real excited.”

Five of the six winners from the Northwest Regional were from Idaho.

“A friend of mine named Cooper (Pavkov) from Gooding, we’ve become best friends and been hanging out with each other,” Kiesbuy said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”

It is the first time that two students from this area have advanced to nationals in the same year.

“I don’t think you ever see something like this coming that they’re going to advance to the national tournament,” Coeur d’Alene Elks Hoop Shoot director Rick Alexander said. “Deacon lost in a shoot-off, so another kid was supposed to go in his place. Then he hits 25 at districts, and that’s a score that can take you far. Kamryn was our Top Gun (best area shooter) at the local level, and anytime you’ve got the best shooter advancing, they’ve got the potential to make it.”

Alexander will make the trip with the kids this week, opting to stay home from regionals on a whim.

“It’s kind of funny,” Alexander said. “My wife had said something about going to Portland to watch the kids, but I just felt that one of them would make it to Chicago, so I’d rather save the time off to go to nationals.”

Coeur d’Alene has previously been represented at nationals by Dylan Bengtson (2011), Zach Mackimmie (2012 and 2013) and Bryan Klingaman (1995). Pickford is the first girl from this area to advance to nationals.

“It’s been awesome watching her gain confidence in herself throughout this whole experience and game some confidence in herself throughout the entire process,” Tambra Pickford said. “This isn’t usually her thing, so to watch her through the process grow and become more confident in herself has been great. She’s kind of made me more calm just watching her because of the way she’s handled things. She’s just out there having fun. It’s been a great time.”

“The previous three times I couldn’t take time off to go,” said Alexander, who was the director in 2011, 2012 and 2013 when others qualified. “I’m excited for them and to get to see them compete.”

Alexander is the acting postmaster in Medical Lake.

Both have continued to practice after school as much as possible.”

“I mostly practice after school,” Kamryn Pickford said. “But I don’t practice as much as I should.”

Deacon’s mother, Shawna Kiesbuy, said that since her son’s local competition, he’s been as focused as she’s seen him.

“He said he’s relaxed, but he’s really locked in,” Shawna Kiesbuy said. “Every night, he’ll ask if we’re going to the Kroc Center to shoot. He’s on a mission and dialed in right now.”

Win or lose, both are focused on having fun this week, parents included.

“For Kamryn, we just want to make this a fun experience for her,” Tambra Pickford said. “When you read about it, you see that some kids go out and shoot 100 free throws a night. But this has just been a fun experience for her.”

At the state hoop shoot, Tambra added that she was a little nervous toward the end of Kamryn’s round.

“I knew how many she needed to get to win that,” Tambra Pickford said. “She was on a roll and then had two roll in-and-out. I usually count her shots, but for some reason I counted differently, so I didn’t know how many shots she had left. I knew the first girl had 16, so she had to beat that and once she made 16, I wasn’t sure how many she had left. I could hear them say on the floor she had one more, and she made it.”

Kiesbuy made 23 of 25 and Pickford hit 21 of 25 at regionals in Portland on March 11 to advance to nationals.

“It’s exciting for them,” Shawna Kiesbuy said. “I had a feeling after watching Deacon at districts when he made 25 that he had a chance. I just thought, ‘Wow, he could really go to nationals.’ He’s really been focused here the last couple of weeks, and really, for me, him finishing second was the turning point. When they called him to get his shooting arm ready, he was focused. From then on, he’s been dialed in. And it’s been fun to watch.”

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