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Pilgeram So Good That He Can Make These Shots in His Sleep

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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