When evaluated as an art form, the jump shot of Columbus North junior Paige Littrell might be aligned more to “Peanuts” than “Picasso.”
A basketball instructor wouldn’t like the fact that Littrell starts rather low below her shoulders when she first starts her motion or that her release point never reaches a spot far above her head.
It almost comes across as a push and the ball never is aligned with her shooting eye, but rather travels its entire course off her right side before she lets it go.
It is, indeed, a different stroke.
Asked how she would describe her teammate’s shot, senior Ali Patberg fired quickly.
“It goes in,” Patberg said.
That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by Homestead coach Rod Parker, who could care less if Littrell’s form is the spitting image of Carmelo Anthony. He has a one-word description of her shot.
Against Homestead on Dec. 30 in Columbus North’s 86-75 victory, Littrell took five shots from 3-point range and every one found the target. If she comes near that performance Saturday when North meets Homestead at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the state 4A championship, Parker will be worried about his team’s chances.
“We have to make them work harder for shots,” he said. “We can’t let them shoot as well.”
Whether working extra hard for shots or not, Littrell has been a consistent threat from the outside, making about half her attempts. She has hit 47.4% from the 3-point line on the season or 54 of 114.
For comparison sake, note that only one women’s basketball player in the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s Nicole Bauman, shoots a higher 3-point percentage (49.4%) than Littrell. It offers some understanding of the kind of offensive weapon North coach Pat McKee has in Littrell.
McKee and his assistant coaches work on all parts of Littrell’s game, but they haven’t tried to change anything about her shooting stroke.
“You don’t mess with things when people know what they are doing,” McKee said. “We trust her and we trust her dad.”
Her dad, Jody Littrell, was asked if his daughter inherited his shooting touch. Jody Littrell, whose final of four college seasons was 1990, still is second all-time in 3-point shooting percentage (.455) at Butler.
“That’s interesting,” Jody Littrell said. “I hadn’t really thought about it. Maybe it’s not actual shooting touch, but the characteristics that lead to shooting touch … confidence, developing that confidence through lots of practice and consistency, and being able to concentrate.”
Jody Littrell said he didn’t show a lot of emotion and that his daughter is similar.
“I was not a fiery guy or a crier after games,” he said. “I was even keeled, and I think she is like that. She has a great concentration level and she doesn’t let things get to her. To Paige, it’s the same shooting in Bedford in front of 5,000 hostile fans as her and I shooting at Columbus North on a Saturday afternoon. She drowns everything else out.”
He said their actual shooting style is not too similar.
“I had a much higher starting point than she does,” Jody Littrell said. “And I shot more off the center of my body, off my right eye. Her shot is off to the right side of her body and not centered with her body or her right eye.
“What is funny is that our biggest struggle was trying to figure out if she was right-handed or left-handed when she was little. She does everything left-handed and she is left-eye dominant. But in basketball, she favors the right over the left. She evolved into what was comfortable.”
Neither father or daughter had the tremendous athletic skills to run past people or jump over them.
“I was never very athletic, not the biggest or the strongest,” said Jody Littrell, who is 6-foot-4. “In high school, though, I was one of the best jumpers, and I was the all-time leading rebounder at Columbus East until Bryce Lienhoop passed me last year. But in college, the lack of athleticism caught up with me. I was the worst jumper on my team other than Thad Matta (the current Ohio State coach), so I focused on shooting the ball.
“Paige knows her limitations, but she has some good physical skills. To some degree, you need to have good hand-eye coordination to be a good shooter and you need to have good touch. That doesn’t take away from hard work and focus.”
Paige Littrell is comfortable with her form the way it is. “If I had the ball in front of my face, I wouldn’t be able to see the basket,” she said of her loading up off her right side. “And I do push my butt out.”
It all works.
And even if she gets off to a slow start on Saturday, expect her to keep shooting when she is open. “I don’t get down on myself,” she said. “And it doesn’t bother me whether I am shooting in the Bedford game or somewhere else, a shot is a shot.”
Patberg would say that, no, not all shots are exactly the same. She knows if Littrell buries some 3-pointers against Homestead, the North fans will be going crazy.
Don’t expect Littrell, though, to be celebrating after a shot. Patberg said that even though Littrell has gotten a little more emotional since her freshman season, she still is mostly business.
“If I hit 3-pointers like Paige, I would be throwing up the 3 sign,” Patberg said with a laugh, before adding, “Well, maybe not.”
The two teammates laughed a bit before leaving the practice court. Although Patberg is an All-American, they know it will take every Bull Dog to beat Homestead, and it will especially help if Littrell is on her game.
So what if Patberg has the ball and Littrell is open on the perimeter in the final seconds of a tie game?
“I’m passing it to her,” Patberg said.
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WHAT: Girls basketball 4A state championship game
WHO: Columbus North (27-1) vs. Homestead (26-2)
WHEN: 8:15 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TICKETS: $15, available at Columbus North High School athletics department during school hours; on game day at arena
TAKE THE BUS: Columbus North is providing a free fan bus on Saturday for students who have a game ticket. Students must sign up in the athletics department office.