By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
There they stood.
Toeing the free-throw line on one end of the Taft Elementary School gym Wednesday was Brent Price, basketball in hand in preparation for a shooting duel. Perched on the stripe opposite Price was the competition — Taye Sullivan, a 9-year-old third-grader at Taft.
Price, of course, played 10 seasons in the NBA and two each at the University of South Carolina and the University of Oklahoma.
He was visibly stunned when he saw his opponent for the shootout, but by the end of the weekend, Sullivan could be the one enshrined in the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Last month, Sullivan advanced through the final round of four preliminary competitions to reach the national final of the annual Elks Hoop Shoot, a shooting competition for children in three age groups: 8-9, 10-11 and 12-13. Sullivan’s most recent win in Dallas made him the representative of the Southwest region, one of 12 regions to compete in the final round today through April 21 in Springfield, Mass.
From those regions, six winners, one boy and one girl from each age group, will receive a trophy and their name inscribed on a plaque in the basketball hall of fame.
Before the standoff with Price, Sullivan was introduced to a stunning production given the venue.
Jay-Z’s voice boomed, “Bring ‘em out, bring ‘em out,” through the room — the same tunes that sound as the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the floor. A smoke machine billowed out a hazy curtain that Sullivan emerged through, dribbling between his legs and behind his back between crossovers as his classmates chanted, “Taye! Taye! Taye!”
He seemed plenty ready for the spotlight — yes, there was also a spotlight — even if he said he wasn’t.
“It’s amazing,” Sullivan said. “It’s crazy, like, I never thought I would be 9 years old getting all this stuff — I thought I would be way older. But it turns out, it happens sometimes. You just have to keep on believing.”
But the fanfare wasn’t finished.
After a few more rounds of chants, Enid Mayor Bill Shewey gave Sullivan a city coin to take to Massachusetts, along with an official proclamation that, in addition to making April 17, 2013 Taye Sullivan Day, read, after a series of “Whereas’s, “The City of Enid wishes Taye the best of luck.”
So far, he hasn’t needed much.
In four competitions leading to the national final, Sullivan has hit 99-of-100 shots from 11-feet, the one miss coming in a 24-for-25 performance in the regional round in Dallas that still was good enough to earn him top honors in the region in any age group.
Sullivan hit 25-of-25 in competitions at Chisholm, and in Kingfisher and Sapulpa to earn top honors in the state.
His odds at a national title aren’t too long. Only two of 12 competitors in the 8-9 boys group matched his 24 in the regional round.
Taye’s father, Rashad, said his son takes between 250 and 300 shots a day almost every day to prepare for the competition. Before Taye’s run to Dallas last year as an 8-year-old, Rashad, 32, didn’t know the measure of the competition, let alone that it could eventually put his last name on a plaque in the Hall of Fame.
“I never thought about that,” said Rashad after an incredulous chuckle. “It’s exciting to think about.”
Taye’s skill is hereditary — Rashad played at Enid High School before continuing his career at Rose State College and Eastern New Mexico — but the free throws aren’t necessarily.
“Not as good as he is,” Rashad said of his success at the stripe. “I can tell you that much.”
In his exhibition against Price, Sullivan was in form.
Price prefaced the dual with a disclaimer: “I don’t think I shot 25 free throws in 10 years,” but didn’t go easy on the celebrated student, hitting 16-of-17 attempts in the one-minute time trial.
But Wednesday, in more ways than one, was Taye’s day.
The youngster had one more miss, but shot with more pace, hitting 18-of-20 to win the last shootout before the big one.
Next stop, Springfield.