Jackson sharpshooter ready for national free-throw competition

Sunday, April 12, 2009
Andrew Puchbauer practices free-throw shooting at Southern Premier Sports in preparation for a national competition. (FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com)

Puchbauer made 113 of his 125 attempts in the first four rounds.

It started with over 3 million shooters.

Now it's down to 12.

Jackson 12-year old Andrew Puchbauer is one of those 12.

When Puchbauer started shooting free throws at the Elks Hoopshoot Competition in Jackson back in December, his goal was to get to the state competition.

On April 25, he will get on a plane and head to Springfield, Mass., home of the Hoopshoot national championship.

It's a far cry from his original plans.

"I'm really excited from here on out, until I get to shoot," Puchbauer said. "Then I'll get nervous."

Over 70,000 shooters competed in Missouri and over 3 million competed nationally. He's hit 113 of his 125 attempts, better than a 90 percent clip, during his run to the national championship competition.

Puchbauer won the Jackson competition in December, then claimed the district championship in Farmington. From there, he moved on to the state competition in Imperial, where he went into two extra shootouts before advancing. He originally buried 23 of his first 25 shots, then went 5 for 5 in the first shootout and added a perfect 5 for 5 in the second shootout to knock off the defending state champion and advance to nationals.

"I knew state was going to be hard because I had a friend that went and got seventh, so I was nervous," Puchbauer said.

Puchbauer headed to Paris, Tenn., for the central regional championship in mid March, where he competed against the state winners from Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Once again, Puchbauer found himself in a shootout. This time it went three rounds, and again he came out on top.

"It started out with 3 million kids shooting free throws across the nation and he's down to the final 12," Puchbauer's coach, Jim Barton, said. "I'd say he's got a heck of a chance."

Barton spends most of his time together with Puchbauer rebounding, since misses are rare. When Puchbauer does miss, Barton offers a little advice about form and technique.

Puchbauer started working with Barton three years ago to hone his baseball skills.

"We started with baseball," Barton said. "He's a real good outfielder and a real good hitter. In the last couple of years, he really wanted to get into basketball more and more."

Barton said Puchbauer practices once a week almost year round at Southern Premier Sports and arrives at school early each morning to shoot free throws for about an hour before the morning bell.

"You have to give Andrew a lot of credit because not only does he have great work ethic, but he comes in religiously and works every day in his high school and shoots 100 free throws each day before he goes to school," Barton said. "Plus, [he] comes in here once or twice a week and works on technique. Then to be able to mentally focus out on a college basketball court with nobody around you knowing if you miss more than one you're probably out of the competition and to stand in there and continue to hit them is a real tribute to him."

Puchbauer's parents, Matt and Nancy, have been to all his competitions.

"Words can't describe," Nancy said. "We're very proud of him."

Outside of free-throw shooting, Puchbauer plays baseball on a team in Jackson, works on his farm, fishes and recently got into showing cattle.

But come April 25, he will have one idea on his mind -- winning a national championship.

"I got a chance," Puchbauer said. "I'm just really excited."

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