As soon as he could sit up, Ryggs Johnston wanted to shoot.
His mother, Cindy Ostrem-Johnston, remembers an unusually coordinated boy who loved shooting at his Fisher-Price basketball hoop. He has since graduated to a backyard basket and those 13 years of practice paid off Saturday when Johnston earned third place in the Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals in Springfield, Mass., basketball’s birthplace.
Johnston drained 43 of his 45 free throws during the competition, sinking his shots in the clutch like any great shooter. After going 23-for-25 in the opening round, Johnston tied two other boys in the 12-13 age group for third place. A sudden-death shootout ensued, each boy stepping to the line for five shots. New York’s Joseph Girard III was eliminated in the first overtime round after missing a single shot, and Johnston edged Illinois’ Jackson Porter after four rounds, Johnston’s perfect 20-20 besting Porter’s single miss. Johnston made 41 consecutive shots after clanking his first and fourth attempts during his first round of 10 shots.
“When I stepped to the line, I was very confident that I would make all 15,” Johnston said. “I was less nervous knowing that I was already out of first- and second-place. I found my rhythm and stayed in it the rest of the competition.”
Johnston earned second-place in the national event in 2012, falling to Girard III’s perfect shooting.
“He is a perfectionist in everything he does,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “He is a straight-A student and shoots whenever he has time to shoot, and sometimes when he doesn’t have time.”
Johnston won five local contests since first participating in the event as a 9-year-old. He is a four-time district winner and two-time Montana champion. In all competition, he shot 141-of-150 from the charity stripe this year.
“I try to keep my elbow in, follow through and be square to the basket when I shoot during practice so it is automatic during the competition,” Johnston said. “If I think too much, it messes me up. I just shoot the ball.”
At 13-years-old, the seventh-grader has participated in his last free-throw event.
“Ryggs would like to thank all of you that sent him congratulation and good luck messages,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “We also want to thank all the Elk’s members who donate countless hours of their time and go out of their way to make the competitors and their families feel special.”