by Tim O’Brien
Mar 28, 2017
Leo High School senior guard Mario Pittman would have preferred to shoot from the wing.
But with the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Three-Point Showdown championship on the line in a tiebreaker, Pittman wasn’t going to complain about having to shoot from the corner.
Defeating Andrew’s Troy Murphy 8-5 in the tiebreaker-round shooting from the corner on March 18, Pittman won the Three-Point Showdown King of the Hill title at the Peoria Civic Center.
The event brought together the four individual Three-Point Showdown champions from the separate classes, Marquette’s Bryce Fanti (Class 1A), Pittman (2A), Murphy (4A) and Carmel’s Evan Myers (3A).
“I felt blessed for my senior year to end that way,” Pittman said. “I wasn’t able to do it last year, so this meant a lot to me. I was more excited to be out there shooting in a college arena and not be nervous.”
Pittman also pulled out tiebreaker wins in the regional and state rounds.
The first-round shooting is five balls each from the two wings and the key. A tiebreaker round goes to the baseline with five shots from either corner.
Pittman drilled 11 in the first round of the King of the Hill competition to tie Murphy and force an extra round.
“I feel most comfortable shooting from the wing. That’s where most of my shots come from in a game,” Pittman said. “I’m fine with the corner though. I have a pretty straight shot, so it’s an easy shot for me. I’m comfortable there too. It’s not a problem.”
The postseason performance came after Leo saw its season end against University High in a regional title game on Feb. 24. From that point on, Pittman focused on chasing an individual achievement.
He advanced out of the regional via the corner tiebreaker and followed it up with another solid score at the sectional to advance to state. Pittman chalked it up to plenty of extra hours in the gym as he practiced to perfect his 3-point shot.
“I was working hard, really working on my shot,” Pittman said. “I was in the gym for hours and hours preparing. I wanted to be ready when I got out there to shoot. I’d never shot in a college arena, but that was pretty cool. It was definitely something different.”
Pittman figured he would need 13 shots to win, and he admitted to being a little nervous when he hit “only” 11 of 15 shots in the first round.
“I was praying 11 would hold up,” Pittman said with a laugh.
His 3-point achievement capped an up-and-down season for Pittman, who attended Leo his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to CICS-Longwood.
He returned to the Lions for his senior year, but his basketball season started late as he recovered from knee surgery he underwent in May 2016. Pittman made his season debut in early December and was a fixture in Leo’s backcourt the rest of the season.
“The biggest thing was that Mario wasn’t playing at 100 percent,” Leo Coach Shawn Frison said. “He’d practice once a week just to try and help save his legs. He showed incredible levels of focus basically playing on one knee in a fast-paced game.”
Pittman averaged 8 points, 3.6 assists and 2 steals for a youth-dominated Lions squad. The irony? He hit more shots in the King of the Hill competition, 19 (11 first round, 8 tiebreaker), than he did all season (12).
“Mario did a great job refocusing after we lost in the state playoffs,” Frison said. “It was exciting to see and great exposure. He put in a ton of work and was always working hard on his jump shot.”
Pittman is now considering his options for playing basketball in college with a handful of landing spots available. He would have rather made a state title run with the Lions to close his career, but the 3-point championship was a worthy consolation.
“It was a dream come true to win it,” Pittman said, “and I feel blessed I was able to do it.”
Story and photo courtesy The Beverly Review.