Bill Pilgeram has a very vivid imagination, and an even sweeter jump shot.
“I believe in visualization,” says Pilgeram, a 6-foot-3 junior point guard at Carroll College. “It’s amazing how much it helps.”
Before a game, Pilgeram closes his eyes and pictures “anything that could happen, and I picture myself doing everything perfectly.”
And every night before he goes to sleep, Pilgeram imagines shooting perfect shots.
“Confidence is such a dangerous weapon in any sport,” he said. “You can make a shot on the floor if you’ve already made it in your head.”
And Pilgeram is making plenty of shots in both places.
Where did he learn to shoot?
“There’s a little cement court in the backyard where I spent hours and hours and hours,” said Pilgeram.
All that practice is paying off.
Pilgeram started out this year making 30 straight free throws in Carroll’s first four games before sitting out the next contest because of a bruised calf muscle. Carroll (3-2) lost that game 94-78 to Lewis-Clark State of Idaho.
That’s the most consecutive free throws he’s ever made in a game situation. But in the back yard at his home in the western Montana community of Plains, he’s got a better string.
“My record is 212,” he said. “Mom and dad used to rebound for me and count how many free throws I could make in a row.”
His parents, Keith and Carol Pilgeram, make it to every game in Helena. “They’re my biggest fans,” he said.
“I also had a great coach in high school,” he said.
Paul Dumas, a Carroll College alumni, started Pilgeram on visualization the summer before his senior year.
During his junior year, Pilgeram averaged only 12 points a game and shot 40 percent from the field.
During his senior year, Pilgeram shot 60 percent from the field, averaged 23 points a game and Plains went 24-0 in winning the state Class B high school title. Pilgeram was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
He was recruited by all the Frontier Conference schools and was asked to walk-on at Montana of the Big Sky Conference. Instead, he chose Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.
Gonzaga also asked him to walk-on because it didn’t have any scholarships left. He was red-shirted his freshman year and promised a scholarship for the next year. But when he was asked to walk-on for a second year, Pilgeram came to Carroll, with four years of eligibility left.
“Carroll was my second choice,” he said. “It’s a good school, and it had what I wanted.”
Pilgeram, a math major with a 3.7 grade-point average, blossomed on Carroll’s court. As a sophomore, he was 11th in the nation among NAIA players, averaging 28.7 points per game.
He was named the Frontier Conference’s most valuable player and also earned academic all-conference honors. He was named to the NAIA District 12 first team and earned honorable mention All-America honors.
“Last year was bittersweet for me,” he said. “Personally, I had a good year,” but Carroll finished at 14-13 and fourth in the five-team Frontier Conference.
“Last year (former coach Jim Kampen) told me to shoot every time down,” Pilgeram said. “I’m no Michael Jordan. I’m not going to play one-on-five and score every time.”
Pilgeram is feeling less pressure this season, and he thinks that will improve his field goal percentage. But apparently, he can shoot under pressure, too.
Carroll’s first-year coach Gary Turcott said, “The thing that impresses me most is the tremendous balance he has.”
Turcott said Pilgeram can be in an awkward position when he starts a shot, and in perfect balance by the time he releases the ball.
Pilgeram says he learned a few tricks from a teammate at Gonzaga, but attributes his balance to years of practice.
How does Pilgeram see his future?
About professional basketball, he said, “The dream is always there, but it’s not something I’m counting on.”
But his long-term goals are more realistic.
“I see myself 10 years down the line as a coach and a teacher,” he said. “It fits me the most.”